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NC Senate OKs sports betting despite fears of addiction problems

In this Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, file photo, gamblers place bets in the temporary sports betting area at the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia.
Matt Rourke
In this Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, file photo, gamblers place bets in the temporary sports betting area at the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia.

The state Senate voted 38-11 Wednesday to legalize online sports betting and betting on horse races in North Carolina and took a final vote Thursday.

Supporters of the bill say gamblers in the state are already using workarounds to use sports betting apps here, and they say the state is missing out on revenue.

“In order for us to regulate and tax, we must first authorize its practice,” said Sen. Tim Moffitt, D-Henderson.

The Senate version of the bill would also allow people over the age of 21 to make bets in person at professional sports venues like Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte or PNC Arena in Raleigh.

Eleven senators from both parties voted against the bill. Sen. Julie Mayfield, D-Buncombe, joined several Republicans in citing worries that the easy access to gambling could create major addiction problems.

“We are now talking about putting a casino in everyone’s pocket that they can access 24/7/365,” she said.

Revenue from sports betting would go to university sports programs, gambling addiction programs and a new fund to attract major sporting events to the state. Up to 12 sports betting platforms could purchase permits for about $1 million to provide the service.

Legislative staff estimates sports betting would generate more than $70 million in revenue once it’s implemented.

If the bill becomes law, sports betting would begin next year. But before the bill goes to Gov. Roy Cooper, the House and Senate will have to work out the differences between their differing versions of the legislation.

House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters Wednesday that it’s possible the final version of the sports betting bill could be combined with other gambling legislation, including a proposal to add more casinos in the state and a bill that would allow video lottery terminals. But on Thursday, he said the House would likely agree next week to send the Senate's version to Cooper.

Senate leader Phil Berger said he’s hoping the House will approve the Senate’s version of the sports betting bill as-is, but he wouldn’t rule out a larger gambling omnibus bill. He’s also signaled a desire to consider more casinos, citing the Danville casino drawing North Carolinians — Berger's Rockingham County district is just minutes from the Virginia city.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.
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