New Georgia Sports Betting Bill Has Low Tax Rate, Would Allow Betting On Most Colleges

A Georgia Senate bill filed earlier this week would allow for statewide mobile sports betting, but does have some key differences from a House bill filed in January. SB 142 would prohibit wagering on any local college sports teams, and would set the tax rate at 10% on gross sports betting revenue. Both of those items are different from the HB 86, which on Feb. 2 moved out of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee and onto the House floor. The bill has since been sent back to committee.

Georgia politicians and stakeholders have spent considerable time discussing sports betting over the last few years: a 2020 study showed that 57% of Georgians support legal sports betting, lawmakers have held public hearings, and the owners of professional sports teams there were among the first to band together to support legalization of mobile sports wagering in particular. A base of support exists, but the wrinkles on top will need ironing.

Both bills would allow for statewide mobile wagering with remote registration, and do not appear to allow for any brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. The only other state so to legalize digital-only sports betting is western neighbor Tennessee, where sports betting platforms first went live on Nov. 1, 2020. Both bills also require that a minimum of six operator licenses be issued, set the wagering age at 21, set the operator application fee at $50,000 with a $900,000 annual renewal fee, and name the Georgia Lottery as the regulator.

Both also include an official league data mandate, meaning operators would have to purchase data to settle certain bets directly from the professional sports leagues. Such a mandate remains an ongoing point of contention, as almost all sportsbooks have already privately negotiated agreements with pro leagues to obtain their data and the use of league/team marks. So far, only a handful of states, including Tennessee, Illinois, and Michigan require operators to buy data from the leagues.

Betting on colleges a discussion point

Sep 14, 2019; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Lawrence Cager (15) reacts with teammates after catching a touchdown pass against the Arkansas State Red Wolves during the first half at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Senate bill, which was filed earlier this week, allows for wagering on professional and college teams, unless the college teams are based in Georgia. The House bill would allow for wagering exclusively on professional sports teams, and prohibits betting on both college teams/events and Olympic sports.

But Georgians are heavily invested in their collegiate athletic teams. One of the most prominent nationally is the University of Georgia football team, which reached the College Football Playoff National Championship in 2017, and has consistently been part of the CFP mix for several years. As a result, a collegiate carve-out will likely draw criticism from potential operators, who may point to the ban as an invitation for Georgians to use illegal sportsbooks or never migrate to legal ones.

The 10% tax rate proposed by the Senate is certainly more operator-friendly than that 16% rate proposed in the House bill, though either would put Georgia about in the middle of tax rates for legal sports betting states — currently, the lowest tax is 6.75% in Nevada and Iowa, Pennsylvania stands at 36%, and the priciest is a 51% quasi-tax, revenue sharing arrangement where single platforms operate without competition in New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

Another difference in the bills is that that Senate bill would not tax promotional dollars while the House bill would. Since operators started launching legal sports betting outside of Nevada in 2018, promotions have been a key way to sign up new customers. In some highly competitive states, operators have offered sign-up “risk free” bets of up to $1,000, match deposits reaching $500, as well as smaller “free bets.” Most states don’t tax promotional gaming credits, though among those that do is Louisiana, where lawmakers last year debated the merits of doing away with that tax.

SB 142 has been assigned to the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, but does not yet have a hearing date.

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