ATLANTA – Legislation legalizing online sports betting in Georgia cleared a committee in the state House of Representatives for a second time Monday.
The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee passed the measure almost three weeks ago, but it was sent back for further work and a second vote.
The biggest change in the bill since its original airing was an increase in the tax companies licensed to run sportsbooks in Georgia would pay.
The substitute bill approved Monday calls for a 20% tax, up from 14% in the original measure. A sports betting bill before the state Senate calls for a tax rate of 16%.
Tennessee, which legalized online sports betting last year, is already collecting 20% from sportsbook operators, said Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, the committee’s chairman and the bill’s chief sponsor.
Going from a 14% tax to 20% would yield another $20 million a year in revenue for education in Georgia, including the HOPE Scholarships program, Stephens said.
Under House Bill 86, at least six sportsbook operators would be licensed by the Georgia Lottery Corp. to run online sportsbooks in Georgia, paying application fees of $50,000 and annual licensing fees of $900,000.
Before Monday’s vote, Rep. Miriam Paris, D-Macon, criticized the bill for not guaranteeing minority-owned businesses would be able to participate in the sports betting industry in Georgia.
“[The Black community is] participating heavily in the lottery and gaming,” she said. “We need to know our communities are going to benefit.”
Rep. Becky Evans, D-Atlanta, said she’d like to see the legislation steer some of the proceeds from sports betting toward need-based scholarships. HOPE bases its scholarships on merit.
But Stephens said inserting any language in the bill dealing with minority-owned business participation or need-based scholarships could require a constitutional amendment. Going that route would subject sports betting to a statewide referendum next year, which would delay it from taking effect until 2023, he said.
Stephens said Georgians already are gambling on sports, but the state can’t get any tax revenue from it because it’s being done illegally using offshore betting sites.
Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, said legalizing sports betting in Georgia won’t change that.
“Sports gambling that goes on now will continue going on offshore,” he said. “We won’t have an effect on that.”
“We’ll compete with them,” Stephens shot back.
The bill now moves to the House Rules Committee to schedule a floor vote.