RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – If you want to place a sure-thing bet on the sports gambling bill that has begun its journey through the North Carolina House, put down some smackers that Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) will be against it.

House Bill 347 passed through the House Commerce Committee by a 17-10 vote on Tuesday afternoon. It’s set to be heard in the Judiciary1 Committee on Wednesday, and Harrison will be one of the members of that committee who will be there to contribute to the discussion.

This bill would allow online betting on pro, electronic and amateur sports. Up to 12 companies would be licensed at $1 million each to operate in the state, and their revenue would be taxed at a 14% rate, potentially generating tens of millions of dollars in new state income.

Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln County) pitches the sports gambling bill in the House Commerce Committee on Tuesday. The bill was passed along, 11-7. (WGHP)

Some of that revenue would be earmarked for historically Black colleges and universities, would provide funds to treat gambling addiction, create a grant program for parks and recreation departments in all 100 counties to buy equipment and build facilities and create a program to attract tournaments and events.

Rep. Zack Hawkins (D-Durham) explained in the hearing Tuesday that, in addition to the distributions for HBCUs, there would be a substitute bill that will be presented in the Finance Committee to add UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Wilmington and Western Carolina University to those beneficiaries.

Harrison isn’t laying down support for any of that, but she also isn’t betting against the bill’s passing, perhaps as soon as next week. There could be a roadblock in the Senate, but that will be seen.

State Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro)

“I’m still very much against this proposal,” she said Tuesday. “It’s pretty much the same bill as last year. I feel very strongly about this. … It’s bad policy to depend on pro sports gambling for revenue.”

“This is a terrible way to raise revenue. There is nothing good about this.”

Bipartisan for sure

This bill is unique in that its support and opposition do not break down along anything close to party lines, and it sets up a confrontation of sorts between Harrison, who represents District 61, and her neighbor just to the northeast, District 57 Rep. Ashton Clemmons (D-Greensboro), who is one of the bill’s sponsors.

State Rep. Ashton Clemmons (D-Greensboro)

Clemmons, who also is also the deputy Democratic leader in the House, didn’t respond immediately to an email seeking her input.

But their votes likely would fall as they did last year, when the House considered Senate Bill 38, which adapted a bill already passed narrowly by the Senate (SB 688). SB 38 escaped its second reading in the House, 51-50 (with 19 members not even voting), before being sent back to the committee.

Harrison was one of the 21 Democrats who voted against the bill, as were Rep. Amos Quick (D-Greensboro) and Rep. Robert Reives (D-Durham). Triad Republicans Larry Potts (R-Davidson), Dennis Riddell (R-Snow Camp), Sarah Stevens (R-Mount Airy) and Jeff Zenger (R-Lewisville) also were against it. Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) was among those who didn’t vote.

Harrison’s issues with the bill

Harrison’s complaints are simple: She said the bill could create more gambling addicts, and she doesn’t believe the argument that some have made that if the bill fails that pro sports teams such as the Carolina Hurricanes and Charlotte Hornets will leave the state. “That’s not happening in other states where there isn’t gambling – like California,” she said.

She said she doesn’t like the inclusion of college and amateur sports, doesn’t like the way gambling is advertised and doesn’t like gambling on a credit card. She said all of that can lure more young people to gambling and that there has been an increase in suicides by young gamblers in the United Kingdom. She said there wouldn’t be much revenue for HBCUs and the bill “didn’t include all HBCUs,”

She said there would be amendments proposed for the bill: to take out gambling on college and amateur sports (an approach argued last summer), take out credit-card gambling, to change advertising and then to raise the return rate for revenue.

She said she expects the colleges and credit cards aspects to come up Wednesday in the Judiciary Committee, of which she is a member. An amendment about credit card usage was defeated in committee Tuesday, 18-8, with the bill’s sponsors voting against it.

Another amendment to strip out college and amateur sports and to limit wagering to pro sports – introduced by Rep. John Autry (D-Mecklenburg) – also was voted down, 19-7, largely because such exclusions would limit the revenue flow and curtail assistance for HBCUs.

“If I were in charge,” Harrison said. “I’d say maybe have gambling onsite at venues for professional sports … betting on those pro teams. … And I’d raise the rate.”

‘Losing money to Virginia’

There are 33 states with live, legal sports gambling, americangaming.org reports. North Carolina is included on that list because the state has four licensed casinos on Indigenous Peoples’ property – two in Cherokee, one in Murphy and one in King’s Mountain.

Three states have legalized gambling but are not yet operational, and nine have active ballot initiatives, which include South Carolina and Georgia. There is no legislation in five states, which include California and Alabama.

Virginia, which passed gambling measures in 2021, collected $26.7 million in sports gambling revenue. Caesars Virginia is supposed to open a casino in Danville, Virginia, later this year.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s biennial budget proposal introduced last week suggests $85 million in revenue from sports gambling in the first year, and Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln County), one of the bill’s sponsors, is betting that the bill will cross the finish line.

“Particularly with some new members, too, that we’ve added in the House, they’re excited about this,” Saine told WNCN-TV (Ch. 17) in Raleigh. “They understand that we are losing money to Virginia.

“We don’t really want to prolong that another year where those revenues go to other states and fund their roads and fund their schools.”

Saine said in the committee meeting that the tax rate in the bill is above the national average and that the $1 million is at the very top among all states.