Sports betting legislation took flight Tuesday in Georgia, as a bill advanced through the House Tourism and Economic Development Committee.
The Georgia Lottery Mobile Sports Wagering Integrity Act replicates the model of neighboring Tennessee. It sets up online-only sports wagering run by the lottery.
Rep. Ron Stephens, the bill sponsor and committee chair, pointed out that Tennessee sports betting generated an “astounding” $131 million in handle in its first month.
That was in November, and Tennessee eclipsed that number with $180 million in December. Georgia, he noted, has 50% more people than Tennessee.
House Bill 86 did face some resistance from committee members opposed to gambling expansion in the conservative state. Stephens tweaked the bill with a substitute before passage. It advanced by a vote of 20-6.
Details of Georgia sports betting bill
With Georgia’s sports wagering bill on the move, here’s what to know about H 86:
- Allows for a minimum of six online sports betting operators.
- Each operator would pay a $900,000 annual license fee and a $50,000 initial application fee.
- Appoints the Georgia Lottery Corporation to oversee sports betting.
- Sets a 14% tax rate (down from 16% in his original bill).
- All revenue goes to funding the lottery’s education programs. Stephens estimated sports betting would generate an additional $43 million in annual revenue for the lottery.
- Prohibits wagering on collegiate athletics.
- Requires the use of official league data.
Atlanta sports teams driving force behind proposal
Stephens filed the bill at the request of the Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Hawks, and Atlanta United.
Stephens spoke of the “massive economic power” of the state’s four professional sports teams, which formed the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance.
But he added that they are not immune to the economic effects of COVID. He explained that sports teams see sports betting as a way to connect with fans that haven’t been able to attend games.
“Why do they want this?” Stephens said. “… It’s for fan participation. As I said earlier, the stands are empty, and these are major losses for these folks that are continuing to try to play. They believe that fan engagement is what’s sports betting is all about.”
What’s next for Georgia sports betting?
The bill advances to the House Rules Committee, which could bring it to the floor.
Stephens noted that there were a number of proposed amendments from colleagues that will be sifted through before the bill goes for a floor vote.
Some Georgia legislators believe any gaming expansion needs a constitutional amendment. Stephens believes that having sports betting go through the lottery makes that unnecessary. Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote of legislators and approval from a majority of Georgia voters.
Stephens has a constitutional amendment bill, HR 30, asking Georgia voters if they support adding casinos in the state.
He added that a Senate sports betting bill was coming in Georgia with different language, including a 10% tax rate.
The Georgia legislative session runs through April 2.