By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
August 13, 2021
A bill that would legalize mobile sports betting statewide with an 8-percent tax rate zipped through two more Senate committees this week and may soon be taken up by the full Senate.
Under Senate Bill 688, 10 to 12 vendors would be licensed to offer digital platforms on which gamblers could bet on amateur, collegiate and professional sports as well as eSports. The state’s Education Lottery would be in charge of regulation, and the proceeds, which bill sponsors guess would be $25 million to $50 million per year, would be split between the state’s General Fund and an account to be used to attract major events to North Carolina.
Licensees, who would pay $500,000 initially and a $100,000 renewal fee in five years, would be chosen by Dec. 1 with betting to begin on the first day of 2022.
Some senators in both the Judiciary and Commerce & Insurance committees questioned the proposed legislation’s effects on businesses, individuals and families, while others said they believe it would help the state keep its professional sports franchises.
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, made it clear that there was nothing pro-business or family friendly about the measure.
“Legalizing a predatory industry to fleece our citizens, making losers of them, so government can sustain itself is not regulation, but a collaborative racket. Moreover, it doesn’t work for the liberty of all of us, just the gamers who make suckers of the most of us with our government’s permission and cooperation,” he told the Judiciary Committee, warning them that the gambling industry “purposely targets and exploits the financially desperate and cultivates addiction for profits.”
“Ask compulsive gamblers if they feel free. And what about those of us who don’t gamble, but still have to share in the high social costs that come with legalized gambling?” Creech said. “Gambling operators don’t pay for the harms they cause families, businesses, and communities. Taxpayers do.”
Senator Michael Lee (R-Hanover) pointed out that a line in the bill prohibiting gambling companies from targeting people under 21 with ads would be virtually impossible to enforce given that logos would be visible to anyone watching a sporting event.
John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, said children would be “overrun with gambling promotions and advertisements,” and that gambling would become the centerpiece of sports competition instead of the games themselves.
In the Commerce Committee, Sen. Jim Burgin (R-Harnett) questioned bill sponsor Sen. Jim Perry (R-Lenior) regarding how many people he expects to be making sports wagers if the bill passes. Burgin cited a March 2020 study from Spectrum Gaming Group that forecasted lower revenue, roughly $10 million the first year. More than the revenue, Burgin was concerned about the number of gamblers who would become addicted.
“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.”
He said he believes the bill would harm young people and minorities especially and that he fears many of his constituents in Harnett County who can’t afford to attend professional sports events would wind up spending their limited income on sports betting.
Sen. Bob Steinburg (R-Camden) knows too well the pitfalls of gambling. He said his late brother suffered from a gambling addiction.
“It ultimately did him in financially, wrecked his marriage, and it was an absolute disaster. So there is some fallout from this,” he said, pointing out that the estimated percentages of gamblers who become addicts (2 or 3 percent, some lawmakers reported) didn’t reveal the true harm.
“Even if it is one and it is your family member, it is one too many. We need to be thinking about that as well,” Steinburg said.
Sen. Chuck Edwards (R-Buncombe), who serves on both committees, told the Commerce Committee that the Sports Wagering bill would be devastating to businesses.
“Employees are going to make impulsive decisions. They are going to make emotional decisions. They are going to make bad decisions. And employers in North Carolina are going to see absenteeism increase,” Edwards said, also predicting a rise in theft and domestic violence if the bill passes. “I don’t think this is for North Carolina… It is bad for employers because it is bad for employees.”
Perry insisted the bill would benefit the companies involved and their shareholders as well as the state.
“I think anytime we create a revenue stream and build wealth in our state it benefits the entire state and our economy,” he said.
But the Rev. Creech told lawmakers gambling shouldn’t even be considered “commerce” since it produces nothing of value, but simply redistributes currency inequitably.
“Gambling takes from the gambler and the economy, while the House keeps the money. The House may choose to spread the wealth around a little, but it’s usually pittance compared with what they’ve taken away. And what they do give back is meant to make us feel a little better about our losses and keep us gambling,” he said. “Is this bill really about commerce? I suggest to you it doesn’t even fit the definition. What this is about is the prospect of financial fraud being perpetrated on North Carolinians. You should see it as such and protect their interests by defeating this bill.”
Senate Bill 688 is now in the Rules and Operations Committee of the Senate. A companion bill, H631, was filed in the House and referred to the House Committee on Commerce.