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North Carolina Senate makes changes to House measure legalizing sports gambling

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Legislation to authorize and regulate sports gambling in North Carolina that passed the House earlier this spring has been altered by the Senate by making it easier for any adult to bet in person and adding horse racing to betting options.

The measure that cleared the Senate’s commerce committee on Wednesday also would increase the tax rate on the revenues that the legalized sports books would generate.

These and other Senate changes could place obstacles between their House counterparts toward hammering out a final bill before this year’s primary General Assembly work session ends, probably in early summer. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper also supports sports wagering legislation.

The chief sponsor of the House measure declined to comment after the committee vote on the changes. The Senate version must still go through two committees and floor votes.

“I’ll wait to see what their final product is,” GOP Rep. Jason Saine of Lincoln County said in a text message.

Regardless of the differences, supporters of legalizing sports wagering argued it’s better for the government to license operators and tax gambling rather than allowing it to continue underground or through online work-arounds.

“Betting on sports in our state is occurring. But in order for us to regulate it, 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 Henderson County Republican, told colleagues. Legal sports gambling is only available right now at three casinos operated by two American Indian tribes.

Largely similar to the House version approved in March, the Senate’s proposal would direct the North Carolina Lottery Commission to issue up to 12 interactive sports wagering licenses to entities that would be subject to robust background checks and $1 million application fees.

Pro, college and Olympic-type athletics could be bet on in both the House and Senate versions as soon as early January.

The licensees would offer gambling through online or mobile apps or at some professional sports arenas, stadiums and automobile racing tracks.

The House proposal only would allow players who have accounts to make bets. But the Senate version also would allow anyone over age 21 to make a cash bet at a betting window at the arena or stadium, even without creating an account.

“We want to make sure that we’re putting the right regulations in place, but we also want to be consumer friendly,” Moffitt told reporters in explaining the proposal to expand clientele. “Our our waging community would like to have options to do both.”

While the House would levy a 14% privilege tax on operators’ gross revenue, minus winnings and other expenses, the Senate proposed an 18% tax that omits certain deductions for operators.

Much of the tax revenues from both bills would go to local, regional and state athletics initiatives, athletic programs at most University of North Carolina system schools and problem-gambling programs.

And the Senate version also would create a separate licensing process and fee structure for horse-racing wagering operators who want to offer betting to people in the state. Bettors would have to create separate interactive accounts to make wagers.

Moffitt on Wednesday didn’t immediately have the projected revenue totals that the state would take in from the regulated gambling except that it would be more than what would be generated in the House measure. That was a little over $40 million annually by mid-2028.

About half of the states allow mobile or online sports betting, according to the American Gaming Association. As the nation’s ninth-largest state, North Carolina is attractive to wagering operators and pro sports franchises that could stand to benefit financially.

While Christian conservatives and liberal Democrats in the House turned back a sports wagering bill last year, gambling interests have been more successful this year. Anti-gambling forces continued to speak out at Wednesday’s committee.

“North Carolina can expect to see tens of thousands more of our state’s citizens and their families victimized by gambling addiction if this bill is enacted into law,” John Rustin with the North Carolina Family Policy Council said.

Gary D. Robertson, The Associated Press