'Bracket bill' would make sports betting pools legal in NC

Many North Carolinians like to bet on their brackets during the NCAA Tournament. But that's against state law, even if it's for a good cause. One state lawmaker is trying to change that.

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Laura Leslie
, WRAL Capitol Bureau chief
RALEIGH, N.C. — Friday afternoon, Chris Martin and several coworkers were out for lunch at a Raleigh sports bar, watching the NCAA men's basketball tournament on screens all around them and talking about their brackets.

Martin says he's in an office pool with about 40 other people.

"It's $10 a bracket to get in, and then half of that is going to the Multiple Sclerosis Society or MS Walk – our company has a team that's walking tomorrow," he explained. "So it's a partial fundraiser, partial bring home some money."

Martin was genuinely surprised to find out that that's illegal in North Carolina.

"Don't say that. That makes me sad," he laughed. "Can we even dance in North Carolina?"

Dance, yes. Gamble, no.

North Carolina outlawed gambling back in 1891. Over time, exceptions have been carved into the law for casinos on Indian reservations and for the state lottery, but otherwise, it's still illegal.

However, in the case of amateur sports pools, the ban isn't enforced in any meaningful way. Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, says it's time to make them legal.

"Knowing that we're in March Madness, which is the greatest time in the world for any college athletics or any athletics, and knowing that it's illegal in the state of North Carolina to do brackets, it seemed a little antiquated to me," Gunn explained.

Gunn is sponsoring Senate Bill 261, which would make betting pools legal as long as either all of the proceeds go back to the players or the pool is run by a charity as a fundraiser.

"Do some type of split of the pot – maybe 50/50 – so the individual would know it’s going to a good cause," he said. "[Bettors] would be able to enjoy the spirit of the season of the NCAA Tournament and raise some money for good causes."

Gunn pointed out that more states are allowing betting, especially now that the U.S. Supreme Court has approved it on college sports. Online betting sites make it easy, even for people in North Carolina. He doesn't expect the bill to get a hearing this session, but he said it's time to start the conversation.

"I think people are starting to realize that maybe some of our rules in the state of North Carolina haven't kept up with the practices," he said.

Martin's coworker Doug Mullen wasn't surprised to hear North Carolina's laws are behind the times.

"It's silly," Mullen said, "and it's even more silly that there's a lawmaker trying to make law to allow it. We've got more important things than worrying about whether a pool is legal or not."


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