A bill to legalize sports wagering, H.B. 347, has garnered bipartisan support and has passed through several committees in the North Carolina House of Representatives. But, the large industry concerns some lawmakers.
The legislation, which would permit gambling corporations to run sports betting operations in the state, is now in the hands of the N.C. House Rules Committee.
N.C. Rep. Zack Hawkins (D-Durham) said the bill’s survival in the House is still uncertain.
H.B. 347 sets a 14 percent privilege tax on operators who facilitate sports betting. The funds would be allocated to services such as the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services for gambling addiction rehabilitation as well as youth sports and collegiate athletic program funding.
The current version of the bill annually allocates $2 million to the NCDHHS, $1 million annually to the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation to support youth sports and potentially $300,000 to each of the 10 public universities in the state to support their collegiate athletic programs — among allocations to other programs in the state.
The listed universities — Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, N.C. A&T, N.C. Central University, UNC Asheville, UNC Greensboro, UNC Pembroke, UNC Wilmington, Western Carolina University and Winston-Salem State University — were chosen because their athletics budgets are not as large as other state-funded schools, Hawkins said.
N.C. Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) said these measures are window dressing on a bad bill.
“The amount of money given for the gambling addiction problems that ensue from online, it is like 0.3 percent of the need — less than one percent of the need,” she said.
Hawkins, one of the sponsors of the bill, said the bill is a solution to legalize and benefit from what is already, unfortunately, going on “in the dark.”
“There are no consumer protections,” Hawkins said. “There are no ways to ensure that they are not being taken advantage of, and that is a problem.”
He also said these opportunities exist around the country and can bring in revenue for the state and advance other programs.
He said many members of the legislature who are fundamentally opposed to gambling would not be able to be convinced to support the bill.
“Members who see gambling or wagering as problematic are just going to see it as problematic,” Hawkins said.
The newest edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders places gambling disorder in a new category of behavioral addictions similar to substance-related disorders.
“The so-called mental health Bible in our country is put together by scientists and recognizes gambling addiction as serious an addiction as opioids, heroin and cocaine,” Les Bernal, the national director of Stop Predatory Gambling, said.
Bernal, who testified against the bill, said this danger is compounded by a “blitz of advertising” that targets kids.
An increased normalization of gambling poses a risk to younger individuals who are more likely to be attracted to sports betting and online gambling, said Michelle L. Malkin, an assistant professor of criminal justice at East Carolina University.
“The truth is, many individuals can gamble in a healthy way and a portion of individuals can't," Malkin said. "And that number goes up as time goes on, as more access to gambling becomes available."
Hawkins said he thinks concerns about the bill, including the argument that gambling may take away attention from the sports being gambled on themselves, do not "hold water."
“This just enhances that experience and allows them to use their resources in the way they see fit,” Hawkins said. “And to do so responsibly in a safe environment.”
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