Regulated sports betting and horse racing should begin across North Carolina in the first half of next year after Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law Wednesday legislation that greatly expands gambling opportunities in the ninth-largest state.
The Democratic governor held the bill-signing ceremony at Spectrum Center, home to the NBA's Charlotte Hornets. It could house one of several anticipated sportsbooks allowed at or near professional sports venues as part of the law that received final approval in the Republican-controlled General Assembly last week.
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The new law says betting could begin as early as next Jan. 8 but as late as mid-June 2024, leading to new revenues for the state and what supporters expect will lead to new jobs and stronger in-state pro sports franchises.
“This is an historic moment for the state of North Carolina and this will benefit our economy for generations to come,” Cooper said at the ceremony.
The law directs the North Carolina Lottery Commission to issue as many as 12 interactive sports wagering licenses to entities that would offer mobile and online sports betting to customers who create accounts.
But anyone 21 or older could also make cash bets on pro, college or Olympic-type sports at the eight potential in-person betting locales associated with stadiums, arenas, golf courses and race tracks.
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North Carolina will become the 28th state where mobile sports betting occurs or has been authorized, according to the American Gaming Association. Gambling on horse racing would be permitted through separate licensing and accounts.
Legal sports gambling in North Carolina is only available right now at the state’s three casinos, which are operated by two American Indian tribes. Essentially, the only other legal gambling in the state is a lottery that began in 2006.
Neighboring Tennessee and Virginia already allow mobile sports betting, attracting North Carolina residents to cross state lines to wager. According to bill supporters, regulating and taxing sports betting is the best way to control gambling that otherwise was happening underground or through offshore accounts.
The bill advanced this year despite opposition from a coalition of social conservatives and liberals who said the additional revenues paled in comparison to the damage more gambling addiction would place upon families and society.
A similar political alliance derailed sports gambling legislation last year by just one vote in the House, but lobbyists for legal sports wagering providers in other states and pro sports franchises kept pressing the idea and won more support in the legislature.
The defeat “gave us the opportunity to work harder” and build support for the measure this year, Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincoln County Republican and the chief bill sponsor, said at the ceremony. “We got this over the hump and we're so glad to do this.”
The legislation will tax sports wagering at a rate equal to 18% of gross betting revenue minus distributed winnings. Legislative analysts estimate that will generate over $100 million in sports betting taxes annually within five years, resulting in $71 million in net revenues for state coffers.
Much of the sports wagering tax revenues would go to local, regional and state athletics initiatives, athletic programs at most University of North Carolina system schools and problem-gambling programs. Cooper said on Wednesday he hoped that more future proceeds would help public education.
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The law also authorizes the commission to set rules for live horse racing.