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A Tale of Urgency and Necessity: Georgia Sports Betting Bill Back on the Table

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Photo by Joey Kyber

The topic of legal sports betting has resurfaced in the state of Georgia after a Bill introduced by state Sen. Burt Jones lay dormant for months with no real chance of being heard this legislative session. But with just a week to go in the Georgia General Assembly’s 2020 session, it appears as though the idea of a legal sports betting platform will get another shot to pass thanks to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It appears as though urgency and necessity have played a part in the sports betting proposal being revived by legislators in Georgia. There are just 4 working days left in 2020 to pass a Bill that could generate an estimated $60 million in revenue for preschool education and the state’s college scholarship program and at least mitigate some of the budgetary losses incurred by the state during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Senate Special Judiciary Committee recently passed legislation on a 5-2 vote.

Urgency

The Atlanta state legislature would be on recess already if it wasn’t forced to suspend its session March 11 due to the pandemic. There were 11 days left in that session – that time is being made up right now. But with just 4 days to go in the session and with a need to cut more than $2.5 billion for the 2021 fiscal year, starting in July, urgency became real for lawmakers and so did the need to find a way to deal with the painful budget shortfalls.

Necessity

The idea of a legal sports betting platform has been on the table before in Georgia. It was essentially buried until last Friday when it got a new lease on life. The reason for its resurrection? An impending budget shortfall with little or no good ideas about how to make up for it.

“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,” Senator Burt Jones, the original author of the pro-sports betting legislation said. “And you’re taking an activity that is currently going on right now.”

Quite simply, states need cash to dig out of a coronavirus hole and a legal sports betting platform has proven to be a safe and effective way of generating revenue in 20 other states around the country.

Other reasons Georgia legislators may be more open now

When the subject of legal betting was buried in Georgia, the proposed tax rate was set at 10%. The latest iteration of a potential Bill would see Senate panel approving a 20 percent tax on adjusted gross income. That’s double what had been discussed earlier and a much more attractive number for lawmakers to consider.

The Georgia Lottery Corp. has been tabbed to regulate the industry, if and when it goes forward. With the Lottery Corp. in charge, it could be possible that Georgia would avoid a change in Georgia’s Constitution, and ultimately sidestep a long and arduous process, which is both attractive and less burdensome for lawmakers of the state.

A coalition of Atlanta professional sports teams has also signaled support for a legal sports betting platform in Georgia. The Atlanta Falcons of the NFL, the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA and the Atlanta Braves of MLB have been behind the idea of legal sports betting for quite some time now.

“During this difficult time for our professional sports teams, maintaining and building our engagement and relationship with fans is absolutely critical,” Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said. He sees wagering as a new way for teams to reach out to their audiences.

Gaging the appetite

There is now a documented appetite for legal sports betting in Georgia from sports teams, to its citizens and now a handful of lawmakers who hope to make it a reality this year. In other words, legal wagers in the state are closer than ever.

Time seems to be the biggest factor as legislators rush to debate and pass just what the platform would look like in Georgia. SB 403 gives us a pretty good glimpse however, as it closely emulates a platform already up-and-running in Tennessee.

With an actual working model before them, with the potential budget infusion being discussed and because of the potential sidestepping of a Constitutional amendment, smart money is starting to flow toward the pro-betting side of the argument. Georgia’s legal sports betting situation is evolving fast and is one to keep a close eye on the next couple of weeks.