The North Carolina Senate voted to approve mobile sports-betting legislation for a second time on Thursday (June 1), putting the Tar Heel State on the fast track to becoming the most significant new market for sports wagering in 2023.
The Senate voted 37-11 to pass House Bill 347 on Thursday morning, the second of two required votes in order for the bill to clear the chamber, sending the bill back to the state’s House of Representatives for concurrence and then to Governor Roy Cooper.
Perhaps just as importantly, House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, backtracked on statements he made on Wednesday that the House would look to combine sports betting with potential video lottery terminal (VLT) and casino legislation rather than simply concur with the Senate changes.
"We're going to concur Tuesday and Wednesday," Moore told Raleigh television station WRAL Thursday. "It wasn't really a change. It was more me not reading the notes properly."
The sports-betting bill would permit the North Carolina State Lottery Commission to issue up to 12 mobile sports-betting licenses to operators without being tethered to any land-based operation. Currently, land-based betting is permitted at tribal casinos only.
The Senate version of the bill includes an 18 percent tax rate on gross gaming revenues, without any tax deductions for promotional play.
This is one of the changes the House will have to concur with, as House members supported a 14 percent rate with full promotional play deductions through January 2025, and then limited deductions through the end of 2026.
Another change the Senate made was the inclusion of pari-mutuel wagering and live horseracing, which was not permitted in the House plan.
In addition, both bills permit professional sports stadiums and arenas to open “places of public accommodation” where wagers can be placed, but although the House requires an interactive wagering account to be used for any wagers, the Senate bill permits land-based betting without an account.
If the House concurs and Cooper signs the bill, which is expected, North Carolina will almost certainly be the most populous state to legalize mobile betting in 2023 and the third state to do so this year, joining Kentucky and Vermont.
According to VIXIO GamblingCompliance forecasts, a North Carolina market with state-wide mobile sports wagering and multiple retail sportsbook locations would generate an estimated $615m in gross revenue by year three of operations, or more than double the market potential of Kentucky and Vermont combined.
The North Carolina Senate had last voted to approve sports betting in 2021, but the House failed to pass an amended version of that bill in 2022, with legislation failing by one vote in the lower chamber.
Barring another change of events next week, VLT and casino legislation will remain a separate conversation, but still a live one as three months remain in the state’s legislative session.
Legislation to legalize commercial casinos has yet to be introduced in either chamber, but a bill to regulate VLTs has been introduced in the House and is also a part of Cooper’s budget bill, although that may not mean as much as it would in other states with the Democratic governor negotiating with a heavily Republican Senate and House.
The governor has also called for authorizing interactive instant games as part of North Carolina's iLottery program.
Moore, the House Speaker, told local reporters on Thursday that draft legislation was in the works to authorize so-called entertainment districts featuring casinos in some of the more economically disadvantaged parts of North Carolina.
“It’s something we’ll certainly take a look at,” Moore said. “There’s been a lot of conversation about ... state-sanctioned casinos, non-tribal casinos.”
Additional reporting by James Kilsby.