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  • Pending North Carolina online sports betting bill could be best bet of any 2023 legalization hopeful
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North Carolina sports betting proponents are among the most bullish of any of the more than a half-dozen states considering mobile legislation – even though the legalization bill has yet to be filed.

Elected officials pushing to expand North Carolina’s legal sports betting opportunities are confident legislation will pass ahead of the introduction of a bill, which could come as early as this week. Republican sponsors as well as Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper have spoken positively of the measure in recent weeks, boosting its bipartisan credentials.

A similar effort fell just short last year. Supporters in North Carolina’s current legislative session believe they have the votes this time.

North Carolina has two legal retail sportsbooks, both within Harrah’s casinos in the state’s rural western portion. Statewide mobile wagering would likely make up more than 95% of the state’s total handle.

Bill details

The 2023 bill is similar to the 2022 version, according to a report from Raeligh’s NBC affiliate.

If passed, North Carolina bettors would have between 10 and 12 sportsbooks to choose from. This would likely include US market share leaders FanDuel, DraftKings and BetMGM.

Caesars, which operates the two open legal sportsbooks, would also likely apply. The state’s Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which partnered with Caesars to run the tribe’s two casinos, as well as the Catawba Tribe would also be eligible for sports betting licenses, independent of the 12-operator cap in the current bill.

Other national brands including Barstool, PointsBet and BetRivers would also be among the companies most likely to pursue licensure. However, neither PointsBet nor BetRivers are set to go live in Massachusetts next month, another high-profile market with well-known professional sports teams.

With up to 12 licenses potentially available, this could also open the door for up-and-coming brands in the US including bet365, Fanatics and microbetting-focused startup Betr.

The bill will also reportedly permit betting on in-state college sports programs, a sticking point in last year’s sports betting debate. Industry stakeholders have said in-state betting is imperative for any legislation in North Carolina, home to some of the nation’s most high-profile programs including Duke University and the University of North Carolina.

Other states remain uncertain

North Carolina’s optimism comes as supporters in other states echo similar sentiments but appear to have a less direct path to legalization.

Neighboring Georiga has already advanced similar mobile sports wagering legislation this year, but lawmakers are divided about the need for a voter-backed constitutional amendment. An industry-backed measure that would not require voter approval (and could allow wagering to begin as early as this year) is running up against a competing measure that would delay legal wagering until 2025. Though there appears bipartisan support, this divide could remain a stumbling block in Georgia.

Texas sports betting supporters also remain bullish, especially after a second Republican senator signed on a sponsor earlier this month. But gambling remains a controversial issue in Texas and sports betting legislation as well as separate measures to approve the state’s first-ever commercial casinos are still facing political headwinds from anti-gambling conservatives.

In Minnesota, mobile sports betting has strong bipartisan support but lawmakers are divided over which entities would be permitted mobile sports betting licenses if wagering is legalized. The state’s Democrat-Farmer-Labor party, which now controls both chambers of the legislature as well as the governor’s mansion, has supported a tribal-only bill, but Republicans have backed a more expansive market structure. With just narrow majorities, the DFL will likely need Republican support to get any sports betting bill passed.

Meanwhile, Missouri has seriously considered sports betting legislation in each of the past few legislative sessions, but efforts have been stalled by a push to tie in sports betting legalization with bills to regulate the state’s unlicenced video lottery terminal industry. Sports betting proponents want to separate the issues, which they believe will create a clear runway for passage, but the complex legislative process could see these measures intertwined again, jeopardizing legalization for another year.

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