It’s showtime in North Carolina for online sports betting and Rep. Jason Saine will be taking center stage. He will be presenting his colleagues in the House of Representatives the legislation that could bring mobile sports wagering from out of the shadows and into a legalized, regulated environment.
Saine has been a sponsor of the online North Carolina sports betting bill in the House but essentially, over the next few weeks, he’ll be advocating on behalf of a bipartisan bill that has already passed through the state Senate. In that chamber, the sports wagering bill was shepherded by Republican Sen. Jim Perry and co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Paul Lowe Jr.
While a specific timeline has not been established for the bill’s route through the handful of House committees where it needs approvals, Saine said he hopes it could all get done in three to four weeks.
Considering the relatively short General Assembly session that began Wednesday and is set to end June 30, a brisk journey for the bill will be necessary. First stop is likely the Judiciary Committee, followed by the Finance Committee, the Rules Committee and then to the floor of the House.
Saine, a Republican, already successfully guided sports wagering through the House Commerce Committee in November with a 12-4 vote.
More recently, the legislature has been on break and state primaries were held on Tuesday.
“At the end of last year, we had a really good hearing on the bill … The vote went 12-4 out of Commerce, so it was pretty strong,” Saine said.
“Part of the understanding was that we weren’t going to move fast. We were going to give people time to get back to their districts.”
Also, legislators wouldn’t have to deal with a vote on an issue such as sports betting with the primaries in front of them.
Constituents Want Online Sports Betting
The discussions that legislators have had with constituents have been both illuminating and productive, Saine said.
“I think the members are realizing that there’s a lot of the constituency that believes (online sports betting) is already legal in North Carolina,” Saine said. “Some people who are passionate about sports betting have certainly been in contact with their legislators and have let them know they want to see the bill get passed. And those who are opposed have let their opposition known, but it hasn’t been overwhelming.”
Saine cited a recent poll that indicated North Carolinians generally favor legalizing online sports betting. (North Carolina already has retail sports wagering at two Native American casinos in the western part of the state).
A poll in April by WRAL News with more than 2,000 registered voters responding asked whether sports gambling, including online sports wagering, should be made legal. A majority, 52% of respondents, said it should be legal and just 28% said it should remain against the law. The remainder were “not sure.”
Saine said altogether, momentum for online sports wagering is good going into the spring legislative session.
If North Carolina legalizes online sports betting, it could possibly have a domino effect on Southern states without it.
Senate Bill Will Be Presented
What Saine will present to his House colleagues will be what Perry got through the Senate, SB 688.
“We don’t want to upset the apple cart on the bill that was passed out of the Senate because it was a close vote in the Republican caucus,” he said. “We want to take that bill as it is, not a back-and-forth with a conference process. Essentially, accept what they sent to us, vote on that without amending it. Then it will become law and then follow-up that with a secondary bill, which should not be much of an issue once the bigger issue is passed.”
Saine said some of his colleagues would “like to see more tax revenue on this and we’re agreeable to that as the bill sponsors.”
Currently, the bill passed in the Senate carries an 8% tax rate. It would not be surprising to see that tax rate increased. Neighboring Virginia has a 15% tax rate on online sports betting and Tennessee has a 20% tax rate.
When Could Online Sports Betting Begin?
So, assuming online sports wagering is approved in the House in the next month or so, how long will it be before North Carolinians can start actually making bets on their cell phones and computers?
“That is a great question,” Saine said. “It will take some time from a regulatory standpoint to get things on-boarded. I would hope to have – and it’s just my hope, I don’t know that this will be the case – I would love to have it before football season starts, but that’s probably pushing it (and) unrealistic.
“More realistically, by the middle of the football season, October, November, is more plausible. Worst case, the beginning of next year.”
Importantly, Saine said, his colleagues have had ample time to consider the issue and understand the merits of having an activity that many state residents are already doing in an illegal market become regulated and taxed with protections for consumers.
“Some folks are as ready to vote on this as I am simply because we’ve talked it to death, which was part (of) the intent. ... We’ve got fatigued from a long session last year,” Saine said. “People want to get in and out, so they’re not surprised when I say we want to move on this thing fairly quickly. … I don’t want to get up against the clock and not get it done.”