By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
August 20, 2021
Will sports wagering be legalized in North Carolina? The odds of that happening just improved as the Senate on Thursday gave its stamp of approval to a controversial bill that would massively expand gambling across the state. Senate Bill 688, passed by a vote of 26-19, paves the way for betting on sports events online, via mobile devices and at approved sports venues. The measure is now headed to the House.
Presented by sponsors as a bipartisan effort to increase state revenue so that poor counties would not have to raise property taxes to build schools, the measure would welcome up to a dozen online gambling companies into the state, each of which would pay a $500,000 initial licensing fee, a $100,000 renewal fee and turn over 8 percent of their gambling profits to the state to be split between the General Fund and a kitty used to attract major sports events.
Sen. Jim Burgin (R-Harnett), the only lawmaker to speak against the bill on the Senate floor, said the bill produces very little money and targets young people.
Earlier this month, he had told the Senate Commerce Committee that revenues would be lower than expected and addiction rates higher.
“Research shows that teenagers and college-aged young adults are more impulsive and are at a higher risk for developing gambling problems than adults,” Burgin said, reading from the state’s own Problem Gambling website. “Further research indicates adolescent minorities’ gambling problems are two to three times higher than white adolescents.”
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, and John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, had voiced their opposition to the bill to lawmakers on four different Senate committees, including the Rules and Operations Committee, which met on Tuesday.
Creech told Democrats known for championing social justice that sports wagering is anything but just. “It grinds the faces of the poor into the ground. It benefits multinational corporations while oppressing the lower classes,” he said.
To Republicans who claim to champion traditional values, he said that the bill would “undercut individual enterprise, thrift, a strong work ethic, self-denial, rational thinking and responsibility” and instead promote “immediate self-satisfaction and self-indulgence – the absolute reversal of American values.”
Rustin pointed out that even the bill sponsors’ best revenue projections ($25 million to $50 million a year) represent just one to two tenths of one percent of the existing state budget. And he questioned what effect the bill would have on colleges and universities that would be allowed to enter into commercial agreements with state-sanctioned gambling bookies.
Also opposing the bill in the Rules Committee, Henderson County resident Dennis Justice told senators that sports wagering should not be put under the authority of the Lottery as the measure calls for, but instead should be handled by a gaming commission.
Although the bill passed, Creech said, he was at least pleased to see a strong majority of Republicans voted against the measure. He added the legislation passed mostly by votes from Democrats, and a handful of Republicans.
“It’s my own personal opinion the bill didn’t pass on its own merits, but because of political machinations in which its impossible to directly lodge an accusation of impropriety,” he said. “But I’ve been around the legislature for more than two decades, and I smell a skunk in the woodpile. Moreover, few things have the potential for corrupting politics more than gambling.”
The Senate’s ultimate decision to embrace sports wagering comes in the wake of an East Carolina University poll that showed that a slim majority of respondents, 54 percent, support the legalization of sports betting, which also has the endorsement of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. The idea has more support among younger people (ages 18-44) than among those over 45 and more support among Democrats and Libertarians than among Republicans.
“What lawmakers should probably note about this poll is that it also showed that 53 percent of voters oppose legalized sports betting,” said the Rev. Creech. “And nearly three out of four people polled said they were concerned that legalized sports betting would lead to higher rates of gambling addiction in our state.
“People who say they want legalized sports betting still realize that it will cause major addiction problems,” Creech added. “It’s just like I told the Rules Committee when I urged them not to be deceived into thinking this legislation would somehow pay off more economically than it will cost us morally. Figuratively speaking, whenever we sell our souls to the devil, he always comes to collect.”