Georgia Takes Another Page From Tennessee’s Book With New Senate Bill

Posted on March 1, 2021

A newly-revised Georgia sports betting bill took another stride through the Senate last week.

Legislation could advance to the next phase as soon as tomorrow.

If approved, Georgia’s market model would share a striking resemblance to Tennessee’s.

Georgia sports betting bill sees new life in the Senate

The recently adjusted Georgia Senate proposal looks to permit sports betting for those 21 and older within the boundaries of the state.

Wagering on both professional and collegiate sporting events would be legalized, though wagering on any Georgia collegiate team would remain strictly prohibited.

The Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee considered the bill this past Thursday.

The committee could make headway on the bill as early as this Tuesday, March 2, during its next meeting.

Then, the bill would move to the Senate Rules Committee, followed by a final vote from the Senate floor.

Responsible gaming precautions

The Georgia legislature is an especially conservative one, which has made this process particularly lengthy.

Religious groups and conservatives have long opposed gambling expansion initiatives, fearing the potential downfalls of gambling. As a result, the bill includes safeguards intended to protect against problem gaming.

For one, sportsbooks would not be able to accept credit as a deposit method. Bettors must instead be able to fund their account upfront, without the use of borrowed money.

Additionally, gaming account deposits would be limited to $2,500 per month – a regulation pulled directly from Tennessee’s statute. A stipulation such as this works to minimize any excessive losses that could result from a player gambling beyond their means.

By bolstering responsible gaming initiatives from the get-go, Republican supporters hope to win over the more skeptical members of their party.

Georgia takes pages from Tennessee’s playbook

Enhanced gaming protection is not the only concept Georgia is taking from Tennessee’s short-lived, prolific sports betting existence.

Georgia’s proposed legislation mirrors the Volunteer State’s market structure in multiple ways.

Much like Tennessee, no brick-and-mortar sportsbooks would exist. Instead, legislators propose the launch of at least six online-only sportsbooks.

Additionally, the Georgia Lottery would serve as the state’s sports betting regulator – similar to the Tennessee Lottery’s role in Tennessee.

Making the Georgia Lottery the sports betting regulator would allow legislation to maneuver around the state’s current gambling restrictions.

In effect, sports betting would merely exist as another Georgia Lottery gaming option and would not require a separate voter referendum for approval.

Georgia’s lottery launched in 1992 and has since generated billions of dollars in educational resources. It was one of the South’s first government-run lotteries and remains one of the few state lotteries to authorize online ticket sales.

An estimated 2 million people are already engaging in sports wagering in Georgia. A legalized market would allow the state to begin benefiting from that revenue.

Sports betting could draw anywhere from $25 million to $50 million in tax revenue from the first year of legalized betting, according to Bill Cowsert, R-Athens.

Unique features pave the way for legalization

Despite the similarities to Tennessee, Georgia’s approach is not without its own creative liberties.

For instance, sports betting tax revenue traditionally benefits state-wide education programs. Tennessee directs 80% of its sports betting tax revenue into the Tennessee Lottery’s Lottery for Education account.

Meanwhile, the newest Senate version of Georgia’s bill extends beyond college-level HOPE scholarships and pre-K education fund financing.

The proposal provides additional options for:

  • Need-based scholarships, grants and loans
  • Rural health care service
  • Health care insurance coverage
  • Broadband service deployment to unserved areas

Proponents suspect these added tweaks could be just the thing to win over the state’s reluctant conservative legislators.

House and Senate bills differ in composition

The House also moved a sister bill through in early February. However, it was returned to the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee for further deliberation.

Both the House and Senate must pass identical versions of the bill before it advances to Gov. Brian Kemp for signature. As it stands, a handful of discrepancies exist between each proposal.

The House bill proposes to prohibit wagers on all collegiate-level sporting events, whereas the Senate bill permits such activity.

This means bettors could still be banned from wagering on beloved Peach State teams like the Georgia Bulldogs, Mercer Bears and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

The two bills also vary when it comes to tax specifications. The Senate bill suggests a 10% tax on gross gaming revenue, while the House bill suggests a 16% tax.

Both of these suggestions are smaller than Tennessee’s “privilege tax” of 20%.

Movement in the Senate could encourage proponents from the House to reach a compromise and move forward with an updated plan of action.

Georgia’s sports betting potential is paved with bipartisan support

Gov. Kemp and other Georgia Republicans who have traditionally been opposed to gambling expansion could further complicate the process.

A number of leading Republicans are hoping to shift those tides.

Senate Rules Committee Chair Sen. Jeff Mullis is the Senate bill’s primary sponsor. The bill’s other sponsors include:

  • Administrative Affairs Chair Butch Miller
  • Chief Deputy Whip John Albers
  • Health and Human Services Chair Ben Watson

Support from Democrats in conjunction with these high-profile Republicans could be the tipping point for this long-awaited legislation.

With enough support, members could ultimately steer the bill to approval by overriding a veto or by forcing Kemp’s signature.

Although a number of obstacles stand in the way of legalized sports betting, the forward momentum is mounting.

A collaborative House and Senate is the integral next piece to Georgia’s sports betting puzzle.

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Alec Cunningham

As a college athlete, Alec Cunningham played Division II golf at Tusculum University. She graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Professional Writing. She then returned to her love of written word in 2000 after working in the music industry as a concert promoter, tour manager and artist developer. As a journalist, she's covered a variety of topics and currently specializes in Tennessee online sports betting and Virginia casino news. She served as a panelist at this year's All American Sports Betting Summit, discussing the ever-evolving role of women in the gambling industry.

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