By Paul Johnson
High Point Enterprise
HIGH POINT – What do you want to bet that sports gambling could emerge as a major issue in North Carolina politics?
A U.S. Supreme Court Ruling last year, which found a federal ban on sports gambling outside of the state of Nevada unconstitutional, has thrown open the issue to state legislatures and governors. In essence, the Supreme Court ruling means that each state can decide whether to allow sports gambling at sites within its borders.
To read Rev. Mark Creech’s Statement on the SCOTUS decision, go
At least seven states have legalized sports gambling in the wake of the court ruling, and the prospect has become a political issue in other parts of the country. For example, new Democratic Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzger ran a successful campaign last fall in part on a platform to support legalized sports gambling in the state.
Bills or proposals to allow sports gambling are percolating in 32 states and the District of Columbia, according to the sports network ESPN.
The possibility of legalized sports gambling in North Carolina takes place against the backdrop of state legislators starting their 2019 session this month. Also, if a sports gambling bill doesn’t pass during this year’s session of the N.C. General Assembly, the topic could emerge as an issue next year when state voters pick a governor and fill all 170 state legislative seats.
The lure for state politicians centers on the extra state revenue from legalized sports gambling transactions.
The American Gaming Association, a pro-gambling advocacy group, estimates that North Carolina could earn $204 million in tax revenue annually from sports betting, based on 10% tax rate. Nationally, legalized sports gambling could generate $8.4 billion in tax revenue yearly, the association reports.
State Rep. John Haridster, (R-Guilford), said he supports the state adopting legalized and regulated sports betting as a revenue source.
“It’s an issue we have to address,” said Hardister, a house Majority whip. “If North Carolina doesn’t do it, we’ll get left behind.”
Hardister said that legalized sports gambling with regulations would respect consumers in their choice about whether to place bets.
“It’s a matter of the free market,” he told the High Point Enterprise.
Opponents of legalized sports gambling say making bets more accessible to the public will lead to the threat of breadwinners overspending and digging a financial hole for themselves and their families.
A coalition of conservatives and liberals could emerge to oppose sports gambling like the factions that fought the lottery in North Carolina, with conservatives making a religious morality argument and liberals contending games of chance end up essentially as a regressive tax on the poor.
A minister and state wide religious leader said he’s counting on the conservative suspicion of gambling to sink any proposal on legalized sports betting.
The pitch of revenue from legalized sports betting “is trying to make a bad idea palpable,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of N.C.
In addition to its immorality based on tenants of the Bible, legalized sports betting would prey on those least able to lose money in gambling, Creech told the Enterprise.
Political analyst Jonathan Kapplar said he expects the issue of legalized sports gambling to come up in some fashion in this year’s General Assembly session. The measure could take the form of a study commission that would examine the implications of legalized sports gambling in the state, said Kapplar, executive director of the N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation out of Raleigh.
If a legalized sports gambling bill doesn’t make it through this year’s General Assembly session, it sets up the issue for the 2020 campaign session.
Next year’s election will include Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper seeking a second term against a to-be-determined Republican challenger. Also, voters will fill the 120 seats in the state House of Representatives and 50 in the state Senate.
“We’re in a group of states that hasn’t pushed on the issue so far,” said Martin Kifer, associate professor and chairman of the political science department at High Point University.
Kifer told the Enterprise he will be interested to see how coalitions form over the issue of legalized sports gambling.
Kapplar said legalized sports gambling could become an under-the-radar issue that might emerge next year in campaigns.
“Sometimes these issues turn into hot-button ones that take on a life of their own,” he said.
This story was posted with permission from the author and the High Point Enterprise.