By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
November 5, 2021
Once again, the chances of sports betting being legalized in North Carolina are growing. The House Commerce Committee gave Senate Bill 688 its approval on Thursday, sending it on its way to the Judiciary 1 Committee.
As he has since the bill was first introduced, the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, argued against the legislation, pointing out that gambling does not even qualify as commerce since it doesn’t involve a fair exchange of goods or services.
“Nothing of value is produced or created by it. There is only a redistribution of currency on an inequitable basis,” Creech told the committee. “What this is about is financial fraud being perpetrated on North Carolinians. You should see it as such and protect their interests by defeating this bill.”
Nonetheless, lawmakers seemed to be swayed by bill supporters who claimed the proposed law would take a practice that is already occurring and make it safer for participants while at the same time creating revenue for the state. They claim an estimated two million North Carolinians are already betting on sports via offshore websites, some of which fund organized crime.
The measure, which passed the Senate earlier this year, 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 adjusted gambling profits to the state to be split between the General Fund and a kitty used to attract major sports events.
While proponents have pointed out that the 19-page bill has bipartisan support, Thursday’s hearing also brought out dissenters from both sides of the aisle.
Rep. Deb Butler (D-New Hanover) said the argument that the gambling is already happening so we might as well legalize it is not helpful.
“However you characterize this, it is a wild expansion of gambling in North Carolina,” she said. “It is going to effect those who can least afford it the most. … Access to this is going to be broadly, broadly expanded.”
Rep. Jay Adams (R-Catawba) said his father was an accomplished gambler, a mathematical savant who perfected his craft while in a German prison camp. But, Adams said, many of his dad’s friends were not so skilled.
“I saw families destroyed by gambling,” Adams said. “Young men in suits getting into fist-fights over a game of craps.”
He said those who are looking for a new revenue stream for the state should remember that “what you see is not always what you get.”
In addition to allowing betting on sports events online and via mobile devices, the bill would allow for professional sports organizations in the state (Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, Carolina Hurricanes and Charlotte Motor Speedway) to set up lounges for betting, and would even open the door for colleges to get involved.
“The bill directs that: ‘Any sports governing body on whose sporting events sports wagering is authorized by this Article may enter into commercial agreements with interactive sports wagering operators… and may share in the amount bet from sports wagering,’” John Rustin told the Committee. “We have no idea what the effects might be for our colleges and universities to enter into ‘commercial agreements’ with state-sanctioned gambling bookies.”
Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, said what is known is that increases in gambling lead to increases in domestic violence, child abuse, divorce, substance abuse, theft, embezzlement, job loss, personal bankruptcy, and even suicide.
“The human cost of gambling addiction is real, and it destroys individual lives, marriages, and families,” Rustin said. “And for what? Very loose projections suggest this bill could generate around $25 million to the State. That equates to around one-tenth-of-one-percent of North Carolina’s current annual budget.”
Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) and Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford) shepherded the bill through committee insisting that it was necessary to put a regulatory framework around sports betting and that as many as 30 other states, including Virginia and Tennessee have already done so. Hardister went so far as to insist that sports wagering is not really even gambling because players can use data and their knowledge of the game to inform their bets.
Sen. Bill 688 now rests with the Judiciary 1 Committee. If it passes there, it will go on to the Finance Committee and then the Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House before it can be brought to the House floor. Saine told fellow legislators that bill sponsors are not trying to ram the measure through, but that they want it on everyone’s radar since they expect the issue to keep coming up until it is dealt with.