Georgia Lawmakers Make A Push For Online-Only Sports Betting

Rep. Ron Stephens is the primary sponsor of the Georgia Lottery Mobile Sports Wagering Integrity Act (HB 86), a bill that could pave the way for legal sports betting in Georgia.

The bill has bipartisan support in the legislature and the support of Atlanta’s four professional sports teams.

It calls for online-only sports betting in Georgia, overseen by the State Lottery. That last point is a big departure from past sports betting efforts.

Previous sports betting efforts in Georgia required a constitutional amendment, but because HB 86 would be run by the Lottery, it would fall under typical legislative rules. While HB 86 requires a lower threshold of legislative support, its biggest obstacle could be Governor Brian Kemp’s veto pen, a known gambling expansion opponent.

What HB 86 Proposes

Stephens, the House Tourism and Economic Development Chairman, introduced the bill in the Georgia House of Representatives. Stephens’ chairmanship all but guarantees the bill will come up for debate and discussion in the coming weeks.

The bill proposes:

  • The Georgia State Lottery will regulate and oversee sports betting.
  • A total of six online-only sports betting licenses will be made available.
  • Sports betting is restricted to anyone 21 or older located within the state of Georgia – there is no in-person registration requirement.
  • A sports betting revenue tax rate of 16%.
  • An initial $50,000 application fee, and approved operators will need to pay a $900,000 annual license retainer fee.
  • Professional and college sports betting permitted

What are the odds of HB 86 becoming law?

Rep. Stephens is no stranger at pushing for legal sports betting in Georgia, but he has failed to get previous bills near the finish line. This time around, he’s opted to try a different approach.

Until now, Stephens has tried to expand legal gambling through a constitutional amendment, something that would require two-thirds support in each chamber of the Legislature and a majority of state voters. The odds of HB 86 increase thanks to the lower threshold of legislative support required.

HB 86 will amend Chapter 27 of Title 50 of Georgia’s Official Code by adding a sports betting section.

Since HB 86 calls for sports betting legalization through Georgia’s Lottery, it essentially proposes a statute change and not a constitutional amendment. If it manages to advance through the legal pipeline and receives Governor Kemp’s signature, HB 86 will take effect immediately.

As noted above, the bill has bipartisan support. Besides Stephens, it has the backing of three Republicans (Lee Hawkins of Gainesville, Matt Dollar of Marietta, and Shelly Hutchinson of Snellville) and two Democrats (Al Williams of Midway and Billy Mitchell of Stoney Mountain).

WSB-TV Channel 2 reported that it had reached out to Governor Kemp’s office to ask his opinion on online sports betting but was told that the governor does not comment on pending legislation.

Kemp has staunchly opposed expanded betting laws, and he could veto Stephens’ legislation. However, the governor has major financial woes and desperately needs a new revenue source for depleting state coffers.

Millions of Dollars for Georgia Education

With Georgia looking down the hole of a huge budget deficit, Stephens pointed out that Georgians are already spending money on gambling. His bill would enable the state to divert the millions of dollars spent by these online gamblers at offshore sites. The state could put those dollars into education, specifically the HOPE scholarship program.

“Georgia just aims to capture those revenues for what people are already doing,” said Stephens in an interview with WSB-TV2 Atlanta.

Stephens said that a legal sports betting industry could generate upwards of $100 million in tax revenue. “In the big scheme of things, it’s not a lot, but it’s an additional game that the lottery would offer,” he said.

For comparison, in fiscal 2020, the Lottery contributed $1.2 billion to education programs such as HOPE.

Backed by Professional Sports Franchises

Georgia lacks a land-based casino industry, which is both beneficial and detrimental for sports betting legislation. It means the united lobbying front of the casino industry is absent, but so is the typical in-fighting as operators jockey for favorable policies.

That opened the door for another group to step in.

HB 86 is backed by a coalition of four professional Atlanta sports franchises, calling itself the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance:

  • Atlanta Braves
  • Atlanta Falcons
  • Atlanta Hawks
  • Atlanta United

The alliance was formed in 2019 to collaborate with the state legislature on legalizing online sports betting. The coalition is advocating for sports betting to be mobile-only, with no brick-and-mortar facilities.

“We don’t receive direct revenue from this,” Atlanta Braves president and CEO Derek Schiller said. “This is good for our fans, we think, from a fan engagement perspective. 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.”

Atlanta Hawks CEO, Steve Koonin, added that billions of dollars a year are already being gambled in Georgia, and the state “gets nothing, no tax, no benefit.”

Eyeing the Neighboring States

Since the US Supreme Court struck down PASPA in 2018, the number of states that have legalized some form of sports betting is approaching two dozen.

It’s been difficult for states such as Georgia to ignore the success of markets such as New Jersey or the rapid spread of sports betting, including in neighboring states.

Tennessee, which shares a border with Georgia, surpassed even the most optimistic expectations when it reported its November betting taxes and wagering figures. In its first month, the state generated $131.4 million in sports handle in November. It took New Jersey four months to reach that figure, and Pennsylvania a full 11 months. And perhaps most importantly for states like Georgia, Tennessee’s sports betting industry is run by its Lottery, and the state received $2.4 million in tax revenue in November.

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