Out Of The Ashes: GA Senate Committee Revives Sports Betting Bill

Posted on June 22, 2020

Georgians may be able to legally wager on sporting events this year without leaving their state after all. The state’s Senate has taken up the cause of the Georgia sports betting bill again.

Earlier this year, it looked like the cause was lost for the current legislative session. The dramatic turn of events is all because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Georgia sports betting bill: the latest

Last Friday, a GA Senate committee attached SB 403 to HB 903. SB 403 would give the Peach State a regulatory framework for legal wagering that is similar to Tennessee sports betting.

Just as in TN, there aren’t any casinos in GA. Just like in Tennessee, the state lottery would control sports betting in GA if SB 403 becomes law as currently composed.

Additionally, the 20% tax on handle and official data mandate for in-game wagers are identical to TN’s structure. The GA Senate Special Judiciary Committee approved the package of bills on Friday as well.

So far, the GA Senate has yet to schedule a vote on HB 903. If the GA Senate should approve it, it would return to the GA House for concurrence. From there, it could head to Gov. Brian Kemp‘s desk.

It’s unclear what level of support the package has at any of those three stages. The original sponsor of SB 403, Sen. Burt Jones, spoke about the financial benefits for the state if enacted.

“This right here, the online betting program is, I think, an answer to adding significant revenue dollars to a system [that] moving down the road will continue to need more dollars. And you’re taking an activity that is currently going on right now.”

Given the significant concerns that originally derailed SB 403, it’s an uncertain future for the bill. The state’s financial situation may prove sufficient to override those concerns, however.

Need for revenue may override constitutional hesitation

The biggest conundrum is the state’s constitution.

In February, several members of the state government in Atlanta expressed concern that the only way to expand gambling in the state is through an amendment to the Georgia Constitution.

The package of HB 903 wouldn’t amend the state constitution but rather add the regulation of sports wagering in GA to the lottery’s powers. In essence, it would use the 1992 amendment legalizing the lottery as the necessary permittance.

While the constitutionality of such a move may be questionable, the need for revenue in GA isn’t. The state is currently looking at a budget shortfall of at least $850 million, with some facets of that situation still in flux.

Sports betting alone wouldn’t address that issue, especially in just its first year. At this point, however, some revenue from gambling expansion would be better than none. Additionally, the state treasury wouldn’t be the only beneficiary.

Atlanta sports teams maintain support

Early this year, Atlanta’s professional sports franchises and the Atlanta Motor Speedway joined together to express support for the tenets of SB 403.

Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin restated that sentiment in the GA Senate Special Judiciary Committee hearing last week.

Those organizations are facing the same situation as the state.

Any revenue from legal wagering wouldn’t be enough to replace all the lost revenues because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but some is better than none.

The Braves, Falcons, Hawks and the Speedway could all form sponsorship deals with sportsbook operators. That could lead to not only advertising revenue but perhaps a betting lounge at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this fall as well.

Right now, however, all that lies in the realm of mere possibility. The pertinent matter is whether the 56 members of the GA Senate will vote on HB 903 and, if so, how those votes fall.

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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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