North Carolina’s basketball fanatics could legally put bets down on March Madness next year. The same goes for putting money on the Carolina Hurricanes, the Panthers, the Durham Bulls and almost any other sports event.

A bill to legalize placing bets on sports passed a key vote on the Senate floor Wednesday 38-11. The final vote, which is mostly procedural, will likely come Thursday. 

The House already passed a similar bill. The Senate version, which includes horse racing, will have to go back to the House for a final vote.

A 2018 Supreme Court ruling paved the way to allow states to legalize betting on sports. Since that decision, more than two dozen states have legalized wagering on sports, either online or in person. In North Carolina, betting on sports is currently only legal on tribal lands.

Sports wagering

House Bill 347 would legalize betting on almost all sports (except youth sports) in North Carolina, at both brick-and-mortar sportsbooks and online.

The legislation would allow for 10 to 12 companies in the state to get licenses for sports betting. They would be able to take online bets and set up sportsbooks near professional sports facilities, like the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte or PNC Arena in Raleigh.

People would be allowed to bet on professional sports, college sports, amateur sports and e-sports (like video game tournaments). Those include college basketball, NASCAR races, the Olympics and other other big sports.

The North Carolina Lottery Commission would be in charge of regulating sports wagering in the state.

Revenue from the bill would go to supporting youth sports in North Carolina, collegiate athletics at some UNC system schools and to a fund to help people with gambling addiction. Much of the money from the state’s sports wagering revenue would go to a new North Carolina Major Events, Games and Attractions Fund.

The new fund would help attract major events to North Carolina, like music festivals, political conventions and other big sports and entertainment events.

General Assembly staff estimate sports wagering could bring in more than $70 million in revenue for the state after five years. More than $40 million of that would go to the general fund.

Horse races

The big new element included in the Senate bill is horse racing. The Senate version of the bill introduced May 24 includes provisions at the end of the bill to legalize betting on horse races.

That would mean people could go to horse tracks in North Carolina to bet on races. Those facilities could also take bets on live televised horse races outside of the state.

The Senate version also legalizes what’s called “pari-mutuel betting.” That type of betting is most commonly seen in horse and dog races. Bettors place money in wagering pools to bet against each other.

The bill defines pari-mutuel wagering as: “A betting system in which all the bets of a particular type are placed together in a pool and the sports wager is placed against other sports wagers on the same sporting event in which the participants finish in a ranked order.”

House bill

The bill that passed the House in March specifically excludes pari-mutuel betting on horse and dog races.

If the current version of the Senate bill is approved, the House and Senate would have to negotiate the details and make a deal over what the final legislation looks like.

The sports wagering bill passed the House with a final bipartisan vote of 64 to 45. The vote did not break down along party lines. Debates over gambling, unlike much of North Carolina politics, is not a partisan issue. Opposition to the bill came from both the left and the right.

The House passed a similar bill during the last session, but it never made it through the state Senate.


Questions over legalizing new forms of gambling in North Carolina have faced opposition from conservative Republicans and Democrats on the left. 

Many elected leaders in the General Assembly have moral objections to gambling. Those objections are based on religious views or seeing gambling as a “tax on the poor.”

“If passed, HB 347 would impose a massive expansion of legalized gambling on North Carolina, as it would sanction sports gambling on every computer, tablet, and mobile phone in the state,” John Rustin, president of the N.C. Family Policy Council, told lawmakers last week.

“It would also flood our state—and especially our children and young adults—with ceaseless advertisements and promotions for gambling on sporting events,” he said.

What happens next?

HB 347 moved quickly through the Senate, passing three committees and making it to the floor for a vote in a week.

Since the Senate bill includes horse races and pari-mutuel betting, the House will have to vote again to approve the new version. Once the bill gets full approval from both chambers, it will go to the governor. Then it’s up to Gov. Roy Cooper to decide on signing the bill.

The bill originally set Jan. 8, 2024, as the day sports betting would become law. But the Lottery Commission asked lawmakers to push back that date to give commission members more time to get everything approved and up and running.

If the legislation passes and is signed into law, sports wagering would be legal after one year from that day.