By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
June 16, 2023
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed a law Wednesday authorizing sports betting and horse race wagering across the state. The House had voted 68-45 on the measure a week ago, following the Senate’s May 31 vote. Betting will begin sometime between January and June 2024. Seemingly before the ink had dried, some lawmakers began talking up a plan to expand gambling even more by adding casinos across the state.
“Something dire is happening at the Legislature. The House and Senate leadership have sold out to the gambling industry. And saying ‘sold out ‘ is not hyperbole,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “In my 23 years as a lobbyist for the Christian Action League, I have never been more disappointed. But just as disappointing is the silence of our churches on this issue. How many parishioners are buying lottery tickets or playing the roulette wheel?”
Supporters of the sports wagering law claim it will bring an estimated $71 million a year into state coffers by 2028, which they say will be used primarily for athletics initiatives and smaller sports programs in the UNC system, with some set aside to help problem gamblers.
Home to the statewide lottery since 2006 and to three casinos situated on native American lands, North Carolina has now opened the door for betting on professional, college and Olympic-style sports on any electronic device and in-person at large sports venues.
The new law tasks the North Carolina Lottery Commission to manage all of the new gambling options by issuing up to a dozen interactive sports wagering licenses to companies that would submit to background checks and pay $1 million application fees. It will allow at least eight sportsbooks to open at or near pro sports venues, including those where NASCAR races and big golf tournaments are held, which will accommodate cash bets without the need for online accounts. Separate licenses will be issued for horse-race gambling operators to offer thoroughbred racing, for which the commission will set rules.
Sports wagering will be taxed at 18 percent of gross betting revenue minus winnings.
The bill specifies that betting is allowed for those 21 and older. Already, in North Carolina, reports show that 1 in 10 youth have a problem with gambling and another 15 to 20 percent are at risk of addiction. An NCAA survey found that nearly 60 percent of 18-to-22-year-olds surveyed have placed sports bets.
Opponents of the law, which had bipartisan support, pointed out that the massive increase in gambling will siphon money from people who can least afford to bet, leading to more gambling addictions and related societal ills.
“It actually undermines state tax revenues because the social costs are at least $3-$12 for every $1 in new revenues. What is that? New addicted gamblers, new bankruptcies as people lose their money. New crime as people lose their money and resort to crime,” said John Kindt, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois who has performed extensive research on legalized gambling.
Creech called gambling a wicked enterprise and a major cause of the breakdown of the family.
“It has caused many individuals to steal, some to murder, and some to take their own lives. It engenders slothfulness, leading people to exchange hard work, diligence at labor, and faithful stewardship for a free ride,” he said. “Worst of all, playing it stirs the sin of covetousness within us, and God says it is idolatry.”
Bill sponsors as much as admitted that covetousness, pointing to potential profits in neighboring states such as Virginia and Tennessee, where sports betting had already been sanctioned.
Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) told the media that “what’s happening just across our borders” played a role in gaining support for the measure, even from colleagues who had opposed a similar bill last year.
“At some point, they know that we’re losing money to other states, so I think that was a big driver in either changing minds or getting people that have not considered it before on board,” Saine said after the vote.
That same fear of missing out appears to be driving a push to open the state to casinos, especially given recent activity in Danville, VA, where a temporary casino opened last month as a precursor to a $650 million gambling complex and resort expected to open by the end of 2024.
According to an Orange County news outlet, a casino bill being drafted now would target some of North Carolina’s poorest areas in an effort to help them create so-called “entertainment districts” that could offer gambling, shopping, restaurants and hotels.
The Anson County Record reported in late April that Spectrum Gaming Group had produced a market analysis showing the potential impact of adding casinos in Anson, Nash and Rockingham counties and predicting gross gaming revenue at $1.6 billion. The company claims the state will “leak” $259 million in gross gaming revenue from the Danville casino and one coming to Hampton Roads, Va.
N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore has told reporters that lawmakers will “take a look at” legalizing casinos in the Tar Heel State. Video lottery terminals, which the state fought desperately to rid itself of, are also once again being considered.
Creech said lawmakers need look no further than God’s word as they consider whether more gambling is the right move. He pointed them to the story of the soldiers at the foot of the Cross of Jesus, who gambled for the Savior’s robe.
“Just as those soldiers were calloused and disrespectful of Christ’s suffering, gambling likewise makes us toward the suffering of others, especially those who can least afford to gamble. Why would any Christian even want to appear supportive of such a baneful industry?” Creech asked. He also had a word for pastors regarding gambling expansion.
“I guarantee you this will hurt our churches, further diminishing our numbers in the pews and our ability to do ministry, if pastors and our churches fail to take a bold stand against it from the pulpit and with the public.”