Georgia Sports Betting Legislation Racing The Clock After Committee Vote

Posted on March 24, 2021
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Written By on March 24, 2021

Georgia sports betting is another step closer to reality as the session nears a close.

The Georgia House Economic Development and Tourism Committee passed both Senate Resolution 135 and Senate Bill 142 on Tuesday. The two pieces of legislation aim to legalize sports betting in Georgia.

The legislation now moves to the House Rules Committee. The legislature will need to move quickly, however, as the Georgia legislative session ends at the end of March.

Amending state constitution for GA sports betting

SR 135 amends the Georgia Constitution to explicitly allow for GA sports betting. The resolution aims to clear up earlier questions of sports wagering’s constitutionality in the state.

The biggest piece in the amendment breaks down where money derived from Georgia sports betting will go. That includes merit- and needs-based scholarship funds, rural broadband support, mental health support, and support for hosting major sporting events like the Super Bowl.

“All we’re doing is capturing the revenue on an activity that is currently going on,” Rep. Ron Stephens said, citing data that suggests 2.3 million Georgians currently bet illegally.

While the resolution did pass, Rep. Randy Nix expressed doubts.

“The biggest scandals are always by sports betting — the Black Sox, Pete Rose,” Nix said. “I don’t think we have to put our official stamp on it and say this is great stuff to do. We’re going to sugarcoat it and fund all these things. I just don’t think this is a great idea.”

Potential online sports wagering future in Georgia

SB 142 came to the House committee largely balancing the Senate bill and HB 86, which was withdrawn last month.

The bill legalizes online sports betting to be operated by the Georgia Lottery Corporation. The bill would license at least six online operators.

Operators are to pay a $10,000 application fee and a $100,000 annual license fee. The bill taxes sports betting at 20%.

Under the bill, the lottery cannot dictate a minimum or maximum hold percentage for operators.

Big change in committee

One major difference between the House and Senate bills is college sports betting.

The House committee voted to amend the bill to take out language allowing bets on college sports. Rep. Erick Allen called for the amendment, while other representatives backed up the cause so as not to “make money off people who don’t get paid.”

Rep. Trey Kelley pleaded the case to allow the bets, echoing Stephens’ original point.

“Eliminating this from the bill won’t eliminate betting on college,” Kelley said. “I share the concerns of [name, image and likeness rules], but we don’t want to lose the big picture that it’s going on today.”

Hairy journey for Georgia sports betting

Some representatives were at odds over the breakdown for how the funds from sports betting will be used, hoping more could go to needs-based educational support.

The bill is largely a Republican-backed effort thus far. Some House Democrats oppose it and other Republican-backed bills as retaliation against a movement to end some voting rights.

The bill also stalled earlier this month after the LeBron James-led More Than A Vote group brought attention to the state’s voter suppression efforts. That put Republican politicians at odds with Atlanta’s sports teams, which have lobbied for sports betting in Georgia to engage with fans, according to PlayGeorgia.

“At the NBA All-Star Game here in Atlanta a couple weeks ago, everyone locked arms and came out as professional basketball players against our voting bills,” Stephens told PlayGeorgia. “Some people just didn’t like that. In Georgia, we’ve done so much for our professional teams. To get the Super Bowl here, we acquiesced and eliminated sales tax on tickets so the NFL could keep the money. We’ve really bent over backward, and some folks felt it was a little bit like their hand had been bitten.”

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Pat Evans

Pat Evans is a Las Vegas-based reporter covering sports business. Evans previously worked at Front Office Sports and the Grand Rapids Business Journal. He has authored two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer.

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