UNC, Duke or N.C. State? It’s a perennial question in North Carolina, but fans might soon be able to legally put some money down on their favorite team.

A bill to legalize gambling on sports in North Carolina passed through the state Senate earlier this year and is now making its way through the House.

“Right now people can bet money under the table. This would bring it into the public sphere,” said Rep. Jon Hardister, a Guilford County Republican and the majority whip in the house.

What You Need To Know

  • The North Carolina Senate already passed a bill legalizing gambling on sports and a similar bill is working its way through the House

  • The state House will take up the proposal in the short session this spring

  • The bill would allow companies to take bets over smart phones and near sports venues

  • The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal ban in 2018 and allowed states to legalize sports gambling

In 2018, the United States Supreme Court overturned a ban on sports gambling, allowing states to decide on whether or not to allow betting on sports. More than 20 states and the District of Columbia now have legalized gambling on sports, according to the American Gaming Association

“The fact is, people are already doing it. It’s not regulated,” said Hardister, who is a primary sponsor on the House bill. “It makes sense to create a framework and allow people to do it legally. The state can collect tax revenue on it.”

Gambling on sports is already legal at Indian casinos in North Carolina, but the bill would legalize betting on sports across the state.

There are still a lot of details to work out in the House bill, including a minimum age for sports betting, the tax rate and where people can go to place their bets, Hardister said.

“Sports wagering is something that’s already happening,” said North Carolina Sen. Paul Lowe, a Forsyth County Democrat and a primary sponsor of the Senate bill. “The only way to make it safe is to legalize it and regulate it.”

The North Carolina Senate bill, which passed in August, sets the minimum age for betting on sports at 21.

The framework set in the Senate bill, which is similar to the proposal in the House, puts the North Carolina Lottery Commission in charge of the new gambling operations. It allows up to 12 companies to set up sportsbooks in North Carolina.

People would be allowed to place bets on mobile devices or physical bookmakers within a half mile of a major sport venue under the Senate version. A “major sport venue” is defined as a venue that can seat more than 17,000 people or a golf course that hosts an annual professional tournament.

The Senate set a tax rate of 8% for sports gambling.

“Ultimately, the state’s going to generate millions of dollars in tax revenue,” Hardister said.

Sports betting could add up to $24 million a year to state coffers, based on estimates for Senate bill from the General Assembly's Fiscal Research Division.

The Senate bill, if a similar measure passes the house, would create a new fund called the North Carolina Major Events, Games and Attractions Fund under the Commerce Department. That fund would be used for grants to local governments and nonprofits to attract big concerts, entertainment and sporting events, and political conventions.

Half of tax revenue from sports gambling would go to the new fund and the rest would go to the cost of administration and into the state’s general fund.

“A lot of people have various thoughts about gambling. Well, we have the lottery, we already have gambling,” Lowe said. “This is nothing new.”

Hardister said the House will take up the bill in the short session this spring, where he thinks the bill has bipartisan support to pass.

“I strongly believe in consumer choice. I think people should have the freedom to engage in activities that they think are fun for them,” Hardister said. “We love sports here. You know, college basketball and football and baseball, and we have all these minor-league baseball teams across the state. I think it would be great for the consumer.”