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Could North Carolina finally approve sports betting? Experts say bet on it.

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Allowing North Carolinians to place a bet on professional and collegiate sports with a select group of wagering operators is the goal of a state Senate bill.

State Sens. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, and Jim Perry, R-Lenoir, are primary sponsors of Senate Bill 688 that was introduced last week. They say the incentive for expanding gambling in North Carolina is a potential $50 million in additional funds for school construction.

The bill would allow for betting on professional, college, electronic/virtual and certain amateur sports.

Lowe and Perry said SB 688 would cover sports wagering that has been taking place illegally for years.

“People in every county know who the bookies are,” Perry said. “There is a lot of frustration with the illegal gambling and gaming. Those folks aren’t paying income taxes and the bookies aren’t generating fees like we do off the lottery to help the schools.”

SB 688 would expand the authority of the North Carolina Education Lottery Commission to oversee sports wagering, with just 10 to 12 sports wagering operators allowed to accept bets. The commission would collect an 8% tax on the monthly adjusted gross revenue of the licensed gambling groups.

Each wagering operator would be required to be licensed, pay a $500,000 licensing fee and submit to a variety of background checks.

There would be renewal fees of $100,000 for interactive sports wagering licenses and $10,000 for a service-provider license.

SB 688 does not affect wagering in fantasy sports leagues, which are based on the accumulation of statistics by athletes and players, or pari-mutual wagering on horse racing.

Also prohibited is placing a bet for another person.

Both Lowe and Perry said the genesis behind SB 688 was a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2018 that gave state legislatures the authority to legalize sports wagering.

The first North Carolina step toward legal sports wagering came when Senate Bill 154 was signed into law in July 2019. It allows for sports and horse race wagering on tribal lands.

State Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, said he believes SB 688 could generate “a fairly broad level of support because it comes from a new source.”

Perry said he doesn’t anticipate significant pushback from the professional teams and collegiate athletic programs because gambling already is taking place.

“I think the pushback will come from the folks who just object to the idea and concept of gambling, and I get that,” Perry said. “My mom feels that way.”

John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University and a national expert on state legislatures, said it will be challenging to get enough Republican legislators to support the measure.

“On one hand, North Carolina has historically been one of the last states in the Southeast to approve gaming, so there is not an expectation that North Carolina would be an early adopter of sports betting,” Dinan said. “On the other hand, as more surrounding states approve sports gaming, the calls for North Carolina to join them will get stronger and may eventually lead to its legalization.”

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