2023’s long session starts in January

North Carolina's mobile sports betting supporters, lobbyists gearing up for renewed push next year

North Carolina Senate.
Reading time 3:27 min

Sports betting supporters in North Carolina are ready to push again for mobile wagering legalization next year after efforts in the latest legislative session failed. Advocates for the gaming expansion include the state's three major league franchises: NFL's Carolina Panthers, NBA's Charlotte Hornets and NHL's Carolina Hurricanes.

While the Tar Heel State already has retail sports betting options in place, efforts to expand wagering to mobile failed when the N.C. General Assembly’s short session ended last week with legislation to that end not passing. Hope first started to wane after legislation faltered in the House during the last days of June, but some lobbyists were hopeful a last-minute resurrection could occur: this, ultimately, wasn’t the case.

However, the fight is not over. “There’s a 100% chance this bill will come back next year,” said Ches McDowell, a lobbyist at Kilpatrick Townsend-owned KTS Strategies, according to Charlotte Business Journal. McDowell also pointed out the slim margin that nixed the legislation: one of the two bills seeking approval in the house failed by a 51-50 vote. 

North Carolina legislature

The lobbyist -who represents the NBA, MLB, the PGA Tour, Churchill Downs and the Charlotte Hornets for sports-betting advocacy- is among the stakeholders that told CBJ they will try again in 2023’s long session, which begins in January. Dodie Renfer of Nelson Mullins, who is representing the NHL Carolina Hurricanes, also told the source that supporters are “going to continue to fight for it,” with teams remaining “very optimistic” about eventual legalization.

The legislation had the backing of the state’s three major pro sports franchises and the Charlotte Motor Speedway for the last session, support expected to be in place again next year. The proposal would have permitted sports facilities to open sports lounges, allowing them to tap into a new lucrative revenue stream.

“If we don’t think there’s gambling going on in North Carolina, you live under a rock,” NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell recently told Raleigh News & Observer. “Two things you can gain out of it: You gain tax revenue and you also get control of it. It’s just like the lottery. [...]” 

NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell

“We’re disappointed, but we are also optimistic that we’ll see it in the near future,” Waddell further said, seemingly confirming there will be a new push. Under the proposed lounges model, sports venues would not be allowed to accept cash, limiting them to online-only, a key difference when compared to sportsbooks, which can accept retail cash payments on betting windows.

Republican House member Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), who played a key role in the latest legalization push, confirmed last month that “sports wagering is going to remain an issue for the state of North Carolina.” This expected renewed effort could face better luck next time.

An unnamed Charlotte sports executive told CBJ that more lawmakers are likely to vote for online betting once they better understand the economic benefits of legalization. Reports project sports betting could generate at least $50 million in annual tax revenue, in addition to generating additional jobs in betting lounges and adjacent entertainment districts.

Republican House member Jason Saine (R-Lincoln)

The proposed legislation would have allowed for at least 10 and up to 12 online wagering operators to be licensed to provide gaming both via computers and mobile devices. An amendment in late June, which surprised most lobbyists and supporters, left out of the bill college and amateur sports betting. The plan would have allowed the market to launch as soon as Jan. 1.

The measure attracted both support and opposition from members of both parties, proving its controversial nature. While advocates believed they had enough votes for passage, the bill faced strong opposition from some lawmakers who leveraged the common arguments of a potential increase in problem gambling and other social problems.

On the other hand, supporters argued North Carolina is currently losing revenue to states that have already launched their own markets. More than 20 states have legalized online sports wagering, including neighboring Virginia and Tennessee. Operators would have had to pay a 15% on gross wagering revenue minus winnings paid out plus promotional credits and federal excise. The deduction for promotions and credit would have been phased out in five years.

Application fees for sportsbook operators were set at five-year terms and for $1 million, with the same price also established for renewal. Mobile sports betting legislation would have allocated $2 million a year for problem gambling treatment, and a portion of tax revenue would have been earmarked for a major events incentives fund.

Sports gambling in North Carolina is currently legal only on a retail basis at two Cherokee casinos in the far-western part of the state, meaning a large part of North Carolinians currently does not have convenient access to legal sportsbooks. 

A new retail option is, however, set to soon join the two existing ones. In late June, Delaware North spokesman Glen White told WRAL that the Catawba Nation-owned Two Kings Casino in Kings Mountain would be debuting the state’s third retail sportsbook this fall, ahead of the football season.

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