As promised, a Georgia legislator filed a bill this month at the Capitol in Atlanta to allow sports betting in the Peach State.
A measure by Rep. Ron Stephens (R) would put the Georgia Lottery in charge of managing online sports wagering in the state, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Proceeds would go to the HOPE scholarship.
By placing sports betting in the Georgia Lottery’s hands, Stephens’ legislation, House Bill 86, would not require an amendment to the state constitution. Stephens, who is from Savannah, is chairman of the House Tourism and Economic Development Committee.
Under the bill, the companies providing sports betting services would pay a 16 percent tax on revenue. Gamblers placing bets would have to be 21-years-old and within the state when wagering, the newspaper reported.
Stephens anticipates sports betting would generate $100 million in tax revenue. He has estimated illegal sports wagering in Georgia is a $1.5 billion industry.
Opponents Cite Social Costs
Stephens’ sports betting proposal has the support of the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance. This is a coalition of four professional sports teams in Atlanta. The teams are the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Hawks, and Atlanta United.
Derek Schiller, the Braves’ president and CEO, said the city’s four franchises would not receive revenue from sports wagering. The Braves are the city’s Major League Baseball team, competing in the National League.
This is good for our fans, we think, from a fan engagement perspective,” he told the newspaper. “But it’s also good for the state, because it drives new tax revenue to the state, especially in this unique time that we’re in and going to be recovering from.”
Those who oppose the bill say gambling comes with social costs, such as crime and broken families.
Georgia Faith and Freedom Coalition lobbyist Virginia Galloway told the newspaper it is bad policy to argue that gambling income will help the HOPE scholarship program.
“Gambling always costs more than it brings in,” she told the newspaper.
Casino Gambling’s Next Step
In addition to sport betting, Stephens wants casino gambling and horse racing to be allowed in Georgia. These changes would require an amendment to the state constitution.
A constitutional amendment requires two-thirds approval in both legislative chambers and passage in a public vote. A bill only needs support from a majority of lawmakers in both chambers before going to the governor
Stephens told the newspaper he introduced the sports betting bill first because that proposal is “the path of least resistance.”
“Then, hopefully, it would build the momentum to get the other ones through,” he said.
The path for the sports wagering bill still might be rocky. The newspaper’s Legislative Navigator site gives it a 25 percent chance of passage.
Georgia is not the only Southern state addressing sports betting this year. In Louisiana, voters last November approved sports wagering in a majority of the state’s parishes. Lawmakers will meet in April at the Capitol in Baton Rouge to decide several issues before legal sports betting is allowed. One topic still to be decided is whether to permit mobile sports wagering or only in-person betting at sportsbooks inside casinos.
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