Lawmakers propose horse racing, betting in NC ::

— A bipartisan bill filed in the state Senate this week would allow professional thoroughbred horse racing in North Carolina, along with the parimutuel betting that pays for the sport.

Senate Bill 629, the NC Derby Act, is sponsored by Sens. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, and Jim Perry, R-Lenoir. It would create a Racing Commission under the state Lottery Commission to promote the industry and license those working in it.

The bill doesn’t specifically address betting. However, as Lowe told WRAL News, “That’s part of the industry.”

Currently, North Carolina has harness racing in a few locations and an annual charity steeplechase near Charlotte, but because state law doesn’t allow betting on races, the professional thoroughbred racing industry is not in business in North Carolina. However, the Lottery Commission could vote to allow horse betting under its authority.

Lowe said commercial thoroughbred racing presents an opportunity for economic development, even in rural areas, and could generate extra gaming and tax revenue for the state budget.

“It’s a billion-dollar industry,” he said. “You start looking at restaurants, hotels and all of the things that go around with this kind of agricultural sporting event – there’s a lot that goes into it.”

“There are already people who train horses here to send to Kentucky,” he added. “Kentucky is not the only state that can do something like this.”

The North Carolina Family Policy Council, a socially conservative group opposed to the expansion of gambling, urged state lawmakers to pull back on the reins.

“The equine industry is an important and valuable part of North Carolina’s economy and history, but gambling on horse racing is an entirely different story,” said the group’s president, John Rustin. “The more forms of gambling that exist and the greater the prevalence of gambling means that an increasing number of citizens will be enticed to participate. Of those who do, a significant percentage will develop problem, or pathological, gambling issues.

“North Carolina should strongly resist the urge to hitch its wagon to such a losing bet,” Rustin concluded.

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