After years of disagreement, the North Carolina General Assembly is gearing up to legalize online sports betting.
People can bet on games at casinos in Western North Carolina, but it would take a change in the law for them to be allowed to wager elsewhere. That would include at lounges located at professional sports venues and mobile betting via smartphones and computers.
Legalizing sports betting has bipartisan supporters and opponents in both chambers of North Carolina’s legislature. The Senate passed a bill last session, but then it failed by one vote in the House. This year, the House has passed a bill, House Bill 347, but now the Senate wants to make several changes, including the addition of horse-race betting. The Senate also wants to tax betting operators at 18%, which is higher than what the House wants.
The bill is still moving through committees. If the Senate passes its version, the measure would have to return to the House for another vote.
Currently, 33 states, plus the District of Columbia, offer legal sports betting. Four other states have passed laws to legalize it but are not yet operational.
North Carolina would follow Virginia and Tennessee in passing laws that allow companies to legally take bets anywhere within state borders and make payouts on pro and college sporting events. Virginia and Tennessee allow mobile betting. Of the two, only Virginia also has betting at physical sports books in casinos.
In South Carolina, sports betting is illegal, but lawmakers are weighing a bill to change that. Earlier this year, Georgia lawmakers failed to advance a bill that would have legalized sports betting there.
An NCAA study released Wednesday showed that nationally, 67% of students living on campus bet on games, and they bet at a higher frequency. Of those, 35% use an illegal student bookmaker.
“Betting on sports in our state is occurring, but in order for us to regulate it and in order for us to tax it and provide a public benefit from those taxes, we have to authorize it first,” Sen. Tim Moffitt, a Hendersonville Republican, said during a committee meeting on Wednesday.
Nationally, legal sports betting is a growing business. According to the American Gaming Association, Americans placed $31.1 billion in legal bets in the first quarter of this year. That’s a 15.1% increase over the first quarter of 2022 as 15 of the 26 markets that were legal in both 2022 and 2023 saw increases.
Here’s a look at what North Carolina’s neighbors have experienced in recent years with legal sports betting or proposals to legalize it.
Virginia sports bets began in 2021
Virginia legalized sports betting in 2020. State and local governments also just allowed four new casinos to be built there. The closest one to North Carolina, which opened as a temporary facility on property under construction, is in Danville.
Sports betting in Virginia is regulated by the Virginia Lottery. The Virginia Lottery Board approves sports betting operators, with Draft Kings, FanDuel and some casinos starting to take bets in January 2021. FanDuel operates in conjunction with the Washington Commanders NFL team.
FanDuel has the greatest market share, with 41%, followed by Draft Kings with 23%, according to the latest Virginia Lottery report showing data collected January through November 2022.
Most bets during that time period were placed on professional basketball, at 22%, followed by football at 15%, according to the report.
Virginia received $1.5 million in taxes in the first few months of sports betting from January to March 2021, according to an earlier report from the lottery. Most of that went to the state’s general fund, with about $40,000 going toward a fund dedicated to support and treatment for problem gambling.
Tennessee legalized mobile betting in 2019
The Tennessee Sports Gaming Act became law on July 1, 2019, making the state the first in the nation to have mobile sports betting with no physical sports book locations. Regulated by the state’s Sports Wagering Advisory Council, sports betting in the state went live in November 2020.
Betting is allowed on professional and college sports, including in-state college teams such as the Tennessee Volunteers, Vanderbilt Commodores and Memphis Tigers.
The state’s latest monthly sports wagering report, for April, showed $318 million in wagers placed with $284 million in payouts.
The state granted 12 companies licenses to handle mobile bets. They include industry heavy-hitters like Caesar’s, Bally, MGM and Draft Kings.
Each company paid a $750,000 fee to gain a license and is subject to a $750,000 annual fee to maintain it. Companies also pay a 20% tax rate on their adjusted sports wagering income.
Thus far in 2023, Tennessee raked in nearly $29 million in sports betting tax revenue. That doesn’t include annual licensing fee revenue.
A large portion of sports betting revenue, 80%, goes to Tennessee’s Lottery for Education fund to be distributed for education purposes. Another 15% goes to the state’s general fund with the remaining 5% funding initiatives to combat problem gambling.
South Carolina legislation
South Carolina does not allow gambling on sporting events, but lawmakers have started considering whether to legalize it. A proposal to allow online betting on all sporting events is currently in a South Carolina state House committee.
The bill proposes a 10% tax, but that rate could change.
A separate bill to allow online wagering on horse races has passed the state House, but is sitting in the Senate. Gov. Henry McMaster is against legalizing gambling beyond the lottery, and the governor’s office has said he would veto the horse race wagering bill.
Georgia says no for now
Georgia’s Senate rejected a gambling bill in March, while House lawmakers declined to take up a bill that would have taken steps toward legalizing sports gambling there.
The Senate bill would have called for a statewide vote on an amendment to Georgia’s state constitution to allow sports wagering. Lawmakers supported that with a vote of 30-26, but it failed to reach the necessary two-thirds majority vote.
The House bill would have used tax revenue from gambling to further fund prekindergarten and college scholarship programs already supported by the state lottery. But it was never brought forward for a floor vote.
“The folks that advocated for the for the sports betting bill worked very diligently,” House Speaker Jon Burns said, according to the Associated Press. “They worked very hard to inform the members. We just didn’t get quite get to the spot where we could get it across the finish line this year.”
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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan is the Capitol Bureau Chief for The News & Observer, leading coverage of the legislative and executive branches in North Carolina with a focus on the governor, General Assembly leadership and state budget. She has received the McClatchy President’s Award, N.C. Open Government Coalition Sunshine Award and several North Carolina Press Association awards, including for politics and investigative reporting.
Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. In the Associated Press Sports Editors national contest, he’s placed in the top 10 in beat writing in 2019, 2021 and 2022, breaking news in 2019 and explanatory writing in 2018. Previously, Steve worked for The State (Columbia, SC), Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.), The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.), Charlotte Observer and Hickory (NC) Daily Record covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly. He’s won numerous state-level press association awards. Steve graduated from Illinois State University in 1989.