RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Online sports betting is set to become legal in North Carolina after the General Assembly took the final vote Wednesday on a bill that would allow people to begin placing bets early next year.

The House passed the bill in a 69-44 vote. Lawmakers have publicly debated the issue since late 2021. A previous effort to legalize mobile sports betting failed last year in the House by a single vote.

Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has said he supports legalization.

The bill will allow people to bet online on professional, collegiate, amateur and electronic sports and to place cash bets in person at professional venues like PNC Arena or Bank of America Stadium. It also allows bets on horse racing. The state would impose an 18 percent privilege tax on sports betting operators.

Betting could be legal as soon as Jan. 8, but the bill gives the North Carolina Lottery Commission the discretion to delay that if additional time is needed. Betting would have to become legal within 12 months of the bill becoming law.

“It’s a great step for consumers in the state. We know there’s tremendous demand. They want legal options. This will bring them to them,” said John Pappas, senior vice president of GeoComply, which verifies the location of consumers to ensure they are in a location where it’s legal to place bets online.

Pappas said his company will work with regulators and operators to create virtual boundaries. In the first five months of this year, GeoComply detected over 1.5 million transactions in North Carolina where people attempted to access legal betting apps in other markets. Those attempts came from 155,000 unique accounts, Pappas said.

“Consumers want legal options. They want to be able to put their money on and know they’re going to get their money off,” he said. “I imagine next year we’ll be sharing data in South Carolina showing South Carolina lawmakers how many South Carolinians are traveling north simply to place a bet in North Carolina because they can’t do it in their home state.”

Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) voted against the bill Wednesday. She said she supported the Senate’s move to increase the privilege tax on sports betting operators from 14 to 18 percent, but still believes it’s too low. She also is concerned about the bill now allowing bets on horse racing.

“The horse racing is of particular concern to me, just on the heels of Churchill Downs shutting down because they had to euthanize 12 horses,” she said.

Wednesday’s vote comes as Republicans continue to have discussions about potentially legalizing additional casinos, as well as, video lottery terminals.

“Mainly, it’s predatory. It’s really not going to produce the revenues that are being promised. So, we’re giving away this opportunity to the gambling industry,” said Harrison. “For somebody who’s been here for 19 years and watched us barely pass the lottery, to watch us go wholesale into casinos and online betting has been really a head-turner.”

Steve Bittenbender, a gaming analyst with BetCarolina.com, said that even though in-person betting will be allowed at certain venues, online betting will be the primary focus.

“The trends have shown in other states that online dominates the market. Ohio, which is very similar in size to the state of North Carolina, it is well above 95 percent,” he said.

He added the state presents significant opportunities for betting operators.

“It’s a very large market in North Carolina. It’s probably a top-five market as far as population goes,” he said. “It hasn’t really gained a whole lot of traction in the South. That’s probably going to be the next growth market here.”