By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
June 29, 2019
The House Finance Committee on Wednesday gave its blessing to a bill that would consolidate the state’s legal forms of betting — the lottery, bingo, raffles and boxing — under a new Gaming Commission and open the door for the nine-member group to study additional forms of gambling including sports betting, steeplechase and video lottery terminals.
Approved by the House Commerce Committee back in May, HB 929 – Gaming Commission was voted down 16-12 in the Judiciary Committee last month, prompting promoters to remove its most egregious provisions related to DFS. The bill’s reference to VLTs raised the most eyebrows.
“For the 11 years I have been here, this General Assembly has tried many different approaches to get rid of these sweepstakes machines because I think we recognize they are not good things to have and they have a lot of societal ills that come along with them. It appears to me that we’ve now decided the state should go into the sweepstakes or video lottery terminals business and see how much money we can make,” Darren Jackson (D-Wake), told fellow lawmakers. “Just because the state can make some revenue doesn’t mean those societal ills aren’t the same. In fact, I can argue that it is worse when the state is benefiting off of people with gambling addictions. I don’t see the need to study this.”
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, agreed.
“What is there really to study? VLTs are a form of gambling which has been studied over and again, and it’s been determined it is the most predatory form of gambling that can be employed,” Creech said. “Moreover, why would the Gaming Commission, a group that could not possibly be objective about gambling, be allowed to do a study of sports betting, steeple chase or video lottery terminals? The VLTs are totally unacceptable. We should see this for what it is – an absurd proposal designed to entice favor for the gaming industry.”
Democrats Julie von Haefen (Wake) and Deb Butler (Brunswick) also questioned why a study about expanding gaming would be assigned to the gaming body.
“The VLT study taints the bill,” Butler said. “Once you establish a gaming commission to study what the gaming commission is going to be overseeing, the train has left the station.”
“Why is the study being done by the gaming commission and not the Program Evaluation Division?” von Haefen wanted to know.
Creech pointed out that the provision for a study of VLT’s caused angst on both sides of the aisle.
“Republicans better wake up. It’s not just Democrats who don’t like this; the Republican Party’s base doesn’t like it either,” Creech said.
Nonetheless, those pushing for the measure said it was all about “oversight and consolidation,” not gambling expansion.
“This does not expand gaming at all. All this bill is simply going to do is two things: It is taking all the gaming activities that are currently going on in this state — bingo, raffles, which is under the SBI; boxing, which is under the Boxing Authority; the lottery, under the Lottery Commission — it’s just taking all this stuff we’re currently doing and putting it under one entity, the Gaming Commission,” said Rep. Harry Warren (R-Rowan). He called Jackson’s assessment of VLTs a “good argument for the wrong bill” and said not doing the study will not make the issue go away.
“The final decision as to whether or not this state expands gambling rests with you, the General Assembly,” said Warren, whose comments were echoed by Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford).
Still, the bill’s wording would give the Gaming Commission wide latitude to explore “any matters” deemed relevant.
Although no amendment to the bill was adopted. Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort) said he wanted lawmakers to entertain an amendment that would make gambling losses eligible for deduction on state income tax filings a part of the bill.
“Setting up a commission to study additional forms of gambling and the possibility of further legitimizing betting by allowing gamblers to claim their losses on their taxes is truly rolling out the red carpet,” said the Rev. Creech.
Kidwell claimed that allowing people to write-off their gambling losses was necessary under the state’s constitution, which allows only “net income” to be taxed. Kidwell said that several lawmakers had told him that North Carolinians would not approve of his proposal because of their moral compass.
“If we have the moral compass that allows people to gamble, then we certainly should allow them to offset their winnings by the losses that they have,” Kidwell argued. Already players deemed “professional gamblers” under federal guidelines can claim the deductions.
But Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Caswell) countered Kidwell with a common-sense approach.
“We tax people’s income and then they get to decide how they spend their income. If you win on gambling, it’s income. We tax income. If you spend your income on more gambling and you lose it, that is your problem,” Meyer said.
The latest version of House Bill 929, approved by a vote of 19-12 in the Finance Committee, is now in the hands of the Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House. If approved in the Rules Committee, it will go to the House floor for a vote.