Atlanta Sports Teams Hint A Georgia Sports Betting Bill Is Coming To The Plate

Posted on February 18, 2020 - Last Updated on March 20, 2020

The legislative push to legalize sports betting in Georgia could arrive sooner than expected. Atlanta sports teams’ messaging on the topic points toward that.

Though it presents some risk for any member of the Georgia state legislature, there is some risk in not doing so as well. That scenario would be great for future legal sportsbooks in Tennessee.

What Atlanta sports teams are saying about legal sports betting

For the most part, professional sports franchises like the Atlanta Hawks supporting legal wagering in Georgia isn’t news. For example, Atlanta Motor Speedway President Ed Clark has been on the record with his support for months.

The little tidbit of news is that these organizations expect a bill to surface in the state legislature soon. Officials like Hawks President Steve Koonin declined to elaborate on why they expect activity there within a short period of time, however.

One member of the legislature who has publicly supported the idea is House Speaker David Ralston. Ralston was in attendance at a rally for the cause last month.

There’s a vast difference between showing up at a rally and sponsoring legislation, however. It’s still unclear whether Ralston or anyone else is willing to take that risk.

Why the ante for betting on legalization may cost political futures

There is no form of legal gambling in Georgia other than the state lottery. Like in Tennessee, legal wagering on sporting events would likely take place solely online.

All previous attempts to bring commercial casinos to the state have failed. The consensus has been that doing so is a moral faux pas.

Many in the state feel the same way about legalizing sports betting. Therefore, any member of Georgia’s state government risks painting a target on her/his back for such groups and individuals if he/she is the one to present such legislation.

Even among those who are less opposed to the idea as a moral issue, there are disagreements about how to legalize the activity and whether or not it’s a matter of importance.

Key figures in Atlanta who don’t see the need to legalize

Among those who don’t see the legalization of sports betting in Georgia as a high priority right now are Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan. It should go without saying that the support of such individuals is crucial, especially given the prescribed path.

A contingent of legislators feels that the only way to legalize wagering on sports in the state is to amend the state’s constitution. Proponents of that idea state the people at large should decide on the issue, not the legislature.

There is also a group who feel that Georgia could follow Tennessee’s lead and enact sports betting legislation without amending the Constitution. That would be an easier and faster path but it presents a risk of being subject to challenges in court, especially given the moral opposition.

Either way, time to act is running short. Legislators only have until March 12 to submit new bills for consideration.

While that suggests the sports executives may be right about legislation coming soon, the doubts about whether doing so would prove fruitful remain. Future legal sportsbook operators in Tennessee prefer the status quo remains in the Peach State.

Why the current situation in Georgia is ideal for Tennessee

As Tennessee’s legal sportsbooks won’t start accepting wagers until mid-June at the earliest, the more trouble sports betting in Georgia has, the better. Tennessee’s coffers could benefit from Georgians greatly.

When the online sportsbooks go live, Georgians will be able to cross the border and legally make their wagers. Every dollar from out of state represents a net gain for the economy in Tennessee.

While spending at Tennessee sportsbooks by in-state residents is still great, it’s less of a gain because that represents discretionary spending that Tennesseans aren’t making elsewhere in the state. Coming from legal residents of other states like Georgia, it’s like “stealing” tax dollars.

That’s why even if the team execs are right and a sports betting bill is introduced in Georgia soon, that’s no reason to panic. It could still be months, if not years before that bill becomes law. The chances of that happening don’t look great right now either.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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