I have a modest proposal. Over the course of the next few months, our General Assembly will be crafting legislation, culminating with what is bound to be a knock-down, drag-out fight over how best to spend North Carolina taxpayer dollars. There will be competing priorities, primarily between healthcare and education spending. Medicaid expansion is the premier policy for Democrats this session, while surely continuing to hike teacher pay and the education budget generally. Though the Republican majority is narrower, they do retain control. More than anything else, this indicates an aversion to any new taxation. But there could be a way for Democrats and Republicans to strike an agreement early in the session –while goodwill remains — and pass a bipartisan bill to increase the coffers of the state.
Last May, the United States Supreme Court struck down a federal law that prohibited sports gambling. This cleared the way for individual states to develop laws regulating the practice. What was once a vice practiced in bars or in living rooms among friends can now come out of the shadows and serve as a net positive on our state.
Its closest relative in North Carolina is the education lottery. North Carolinians buy tickets and a few lucky folks win money. In theory, the revenue from the education lottery goes toward our public schools. That has been a source of controversy ever since the recession, which struck soon after the legislature enacted the lottery. Specifically, North Carolina does not have language ensuring that funds are used to supplement instead of supplant spending. Prior to removing that language from the bill and its passage, lottery money would have been required to go toward education on top of what was allocated; in practice, it can be used to replace education spending, basically used for whatever the legislature wants.
That would be an issue for the legislature to hash out in deliberating a new sports gambling measure in North Carolina. Good government ought to compel them have sunshine in these processes. The education lottery would do well to have its language updated to reflect what most citizens believe is its purpose: to supplement, not to supplant, education spending. Any bill to allow sports gambling in North Carolina would be popular, since people have been doing it anyways. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that there is an estimated $400 billion in illegal sports bets annually. With North Carolina one of the ten largest states by population, there is a lot of untapped revenue potential in codifying and regulating the practice.
Per Charlotte Observer article above, there doesn’t seem to be any resolute opposition to sports gambling in North Carolina by legislators. It isn’t a partisan issue, and in fact Republican Majority Whip John Hardister co-sponsored a bill with Democratic Rep. Carla Cunningham last year to regulate fantasy sports. There’s an appetite for many of the new members to work together in this session, and this could be a solid issue upon which to build trust and bipartisanship moving forward into more divisive issues. If addressed, there would likely be a healthy coalition of representatives and senators from both sides of the aisle interested in it. It could help strike a chord of harmony early on in 2019. What’s more, with the prospect of Medicaid expansion and another round of teacher pay increases, the state would benefit from the extra money. This could make the budget fight at least marginally easier.
Gambling already happens in North Carolina. To legalize it would not incentivize its practice; it would only be an acknowledgment that adults engage in an activity that can and should be regulated and profitable to the state. Democrats and Republicans alike should consider this, and the sooner the better. March Madness is only a few weeks away.
Kirk Kovach is a native North Carolinian interested in writing about politics, communication and culture.