A sports betting proposal that would license at least six sportsbooks in Georgia hopped its first hurdle Tuesday.
The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee passed HB 86, though that wasn’t a huge surprise. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens, the committee chair, and has significant backers behind it.
Stephens said the legislation was requested by the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance, which includes the state’s four professional teams:
- MLB’s Atlanta Braves
- Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United
- NBA’s Atlanta Hawks
- NFL’s Atlanta Falcons
Stephens said the teams came together to “plead with us” to pass a GA sports betting bill to increase fan engagement.
“It’s for fan participation,” Stephens said. “As I said earlier, the stands are empty and of course these are major losses for these folks that are continuing to try to play.”
Details of Georgia sports betting bill
Stephens’ proposal calls for at least six sports betting operators with no cap on potential licenses.
Georgia requires a constitutional amendment approved through a referendum for any gambling expansion, but that might not be needed with HB 86. Sports betting would be regulated by the Georgia Lottery and would be added as another lottery game.
Stephens originally filed the bill with a 16% tax rate but an amended version cuts that rate to 14%. Sportsbooks would pay $900,000 annually for their license.
The bill does include one unfortunate catch: there would be no betting on any college sports.
Time ticking for Georgia to take advantage of slower movers
If Georgia legalizes sports betting this year, the state could see a good chunk of its business come from out-of-state bettors.
So far, Tennessee is the only southeastern state with legal mobile sports betting. Its first two months of results show that, too: Tennessee took more than $312 million in bets in November and December, by far the best start for any US state.
Of course, if Georgia doesn’t move quickly, it could lose that advantage. Both Alabama and South Carolina are considering gambling bills this year that could bring sports betting sooner rather than later.
Sports betting getting the might-as-well treatment
Tuesday’s hearing presented a terrific example of how sports betting is now being looked at by legislatures around the country. If you’ve paid attention to marijuana legalization attempts, the proponents and opponents sound almost exactly the same.
“If you’re going to do it offshore, why don’t we collect revenue here in Georgia?” Stephens asked the committee in his opening remarks. More than $4.8 billion is illegally bet annually by 2.2 million Georgians, according to Stephens.
The loudest opponent in the room, Rep. Randy Nix, didn’t think that’s enough of a reason.
“If this was going to be the end, it might be OK, but this is just starting us toward casinos and a lot of other things,” Nix said. “I think Georgia is one of the best states to do business in right now. I just see no need for us to be able to do this and I believe that we would be much better off if we just leave this to somebody else.
“If you want to gamble and you like what they do in Michigan or whatever, just go up there.”