RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A bill to legalize sports betting in North Carolina got approval from its first Senate committee Wednesday, as a new analysis called into question how much money the proposal would actually generate for the state.
Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of legislators proposed a plan to regulate and tax sports gambling, noting that it’s already happening anyway.
“I’ve been surprised about the ability of anyone to log on and place a bet today,” said Sen. Jim Perry (R-Lenoir County), one of the lead sponsors of the bill. “I don’t think we should ignore that. It is a fact that does exist today. So I think we’re choosing to regulate it rather than just ignore it.”
As the bill stands, it would allow for bets to be placed on: professional, collegiate, amateur, and electronic sports. Between 10 and 12 licenses would be granted to companies to operate. There would be an 8 percent tax on adjusted gross revenue.
When the bill was first filed in early April, Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Forsyth) said he and other bill sponsors projected it would generate about $50 million in revenue annually for North Carolina. Half the revenue would go to a new fund to promote major events, while Lowe wants the other half to go toward education.
“It is one way that we can provide for some of the needs of our state,” he said Wednesday.
But, a new analysis released Wednesday by nonpartisan legislative staff estimates the bill would generate $8 million to $24 million in tax revenue annually for the state.
“We’ve seen various projections like we always do. And, some, they range from very conservative, to, I think, very optimistic,” Perry said. “We’ve probably seen six projections on them, and, as you’ll guess, none of them were the same. So, they’re all over the place.”
Perry noted there have been discussions about raising the 8 percent proposed tax rate by two to four percentage points.
While the bill sponsors have said they want to utilize part of the money generated to help fund schools, Sen. Joyce Waddell (D-Mecklenburg) pointed out the bill does not explicitly call for the money to go to education but rather the state’s general fund. She advocated changing that, which Perry said he would work with her to address.
Sen. Ralph Hise (R-47) said he’s concerned about directing half of the money to the proposed Major Events, Games and Attractions Fund when there could be a point at which that fund doesn’t need to continually receive that much money. He said he’ll be pushing to amend the bill to have the General Assembly retain control over that funding.
Though the bill passed the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday by a voice vote, there was not a count of how many members supported it.
Conservative groups, including the North Carolina Family Policy Council and the Christian Action League of North Carolina, spoke against the bill.
“Gambling and not the games themselves will become the centerpiece of sports competition in North Carolina,” said John Rustin, president and executive director of the NCFPC. “This is not just about numbers on a balance sheet. This is about real lives and real families.”
Rev. Mark Creech called gambling “parasitic.”
Perry said the bill is likely to undergo changes as it moves through additional committees before making it the floor of the Senate. He said there’s still “healthy skepticism” about it and even pointed out his own mother doesn’t like the idea. But, he reiterated how easy it is for people to place bets online already.
A spokesperson for Gov. Roy Cooper also said he supports the idea of legalizing sports betting.
In an email, Mary Scott Winstead wrote, “With the proper guardrails for sports betting in place, the state could benefit from the new jobs that will be created and the potential revenue which could be used to invest in education, health care and other priorities for North Carolinians.”