SAINE: Regulating sports wagering will be a big win for North Carolina

FILE – People make bets at the sportsbook at the Ocean Casino Resort, Feb. 10, 2022, in Atlantic City, N.J. Gambling has gone from the forbidden topic in the NFL to a key part of the league’s present and future. The days of lobbying against widespread legalized sports betting, preventing broadcast partners from even discussing point spreads and even prohibiting players from holding a fantasy football convention because it was at a casino are firmly in the past. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry, File)

A bill to regulate online sports wagering is making its way through the North Carolina General Assembly. If all goes according to plan, North Carolinians could finally join residents in 35 other states in being able to legally place their bets by the next Super Bowl.  

Prior to sponsoring this bill, I was not what you would consider a typical supporter of expanded gambling. But sports wagering is a unique issue, and one that is truly as old as sports themselves.  

We have a stock market, we have a state Lottery, and success or failure in business comes down to making smart decisions. Why should we draw the line at predicting the outcome of sports contests?  

If people are going to bet on sports, I decided, along with my co-sponsors, that it should be in an open and transparent fashion that protects the integrity of sports competitions, but also gives people a safe and well-regulated outlet for this activity.  

HB 347 is the result of years of compromise and debate, shaped by the principles that make North Carolina a fiscally responsible and attractive place to do business, and integrating ideas from both sides of the aisle. Of course, any policy will have its detractors, and we have taken their input under consideration as well. The end result is a well-rounded bill that will protect consumers while protecting their most important right — the right to decide for themselves. 

Without question, North Carolina stands to benefit from the passage of this legislation. Regulated sports wagering will bring in approximately $60-80 million in new tax revenue each year, which will go not only to shoring up the state’s General Fund, but a number of worthy causes including youth sports funding in all 100 counties and athletic programs at state public universities that don’t have the benefit of Division 1 football programs to generate revenue.  

For those who say that the state shouldn’t be sanctioning this kind of behavior, I ask, in all earnestness, is there another practical solution? Throughout history, prohibition has never worked and certainly isn’t working as a policy today.  

The appetite for sports wagering is enormous; it’s all around us already, whether we like it or not.  

Virginia and Tennessee are among 35 states that already have legal sports wagering. Legal options in neighboring states aside, our state’s prohibition on sports wagering has given rise to an illicit network of anonymous online sports betting websites, available to anyone with a credit card 24/7.  

These shady illegal operators draw hundreds of millions of dollars from our state each year. We want to keep that money here in the state, grow local business, put that tax revenue to good use, and give consenting adults a safe option with a legal product that will protect consumers and their personal information. Turning a blind eye to the current offshore gambling problem is simply not a solution; we owe our constituents a better alternative. 

For those who have concerns that gambling addiction will increase, we have dedicated an unprecedented two million dollars to enhance the state’s mental health and problem gaming resources. The bill will ensure that no North Carolinian needs to wonder where to go for help, and will require all licensed sports wagering operators to offer responsible gaming tools including self-exclusion options. For those who claim this will open the doors to entice minors to bet, we have implemented safeguards as stringent as any law in the country to ensure that all users of sports wagering apps are of legal age, and any advertising of sports wagering products cannot target underage populations.  

We have learned from dozens of other states that have already taken the steps to regulate online sports wagering, and we are confident that the time is right for North Carolina to take this much-needed step. I believe a strong, bipartisan majority of legislators, in the House and the Senate, support HB 347. The time is now to pass this important bill and get it to Gov. Roy Cooper for his signature. 

Rep. Jason Saine represents NC House District 97 in Lincoln County