One of the more conservative states in the South with regards to legalized sports betting, Georgia signaled late last week that they may finally be willing to budge on their blanket ban on all things sports betting. A move by influential Republican State Senator Burt Jones filed Thursday takes aim at the prohibitions and looks to fast-track its implementation of legal sports betting by avoiding a constitutional amendment.
Senate Bill 403 has been drafted and is ready to be introduced to the full Senate. The bill would give the Georgia Lottery regulatory power over the legalized betting platform, essentially making sports wagering another game under the Lottery umbrella and therefore sidestepping the need for a two-thirds majority in the Georgia House. It ultimately avoids a change in the state's constitution.
The plan is for Georgia to follow the Tennessee and New Hampshire models – states that like Georgia do not have any brick-and-mortar facilities in which sports batting can be facilitated.
What's the rush?
Senator Jones may have said it best when he commented recently that: “It’s going on currently… And so we feel like — much like the internet sales tax — that it’s just an opportunity for us to capitalize on an entity that’s already operating.” Jones notes that $1.5 billion is already being wagered on sports by Georgians illegally and that: “We just want to regulate and control something that’s already going on”.
Other states are taking full advantage of the revenues generated off legal sports betting already putting Georgia behind the curve. With budget shortfalls coming to light it is becoming crucial for states to get creative to pad their coffers and legal sports betting has been a major contributor in education and pension funds in other states.
The current Bill that will be presented to lawmakers will have the Georgia Lottery Corporation oversee the legal betting platform. Bettors under the plan will have to be at least 21 years of age and would have to place their wagers within state lines. Bets on college games would also be allowed.
There will be a strong mobile component to the proposed bill with sports betting companies being required to pay a 20% tax on any revenues. Each operator would have to pay a $900,000 annual license fee and will be required to use official league data to settle in-play bets.
Voters in the state would still have their say under the proposed plan. It just wouldn't be on a constitutional amendment. “l’d rather the citizens have a say on it,” Senator Jones said. “But two-thirds of the legislature has never allowed that to happen.” The voters’ say would be in the form of a question on the 2020 ballot.
Where tax revenue would go
The tax dollars generated by a legal sports betting platform would benefit the state’s HOPE scholarship. 95% of the tax dollars would go straight to the HOPE scholarship and the other 5% is tabbed to benefit the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities to develop and run addiction treatment services in the state.
Governor Brian Kemp has been calling for a cut in state spending in order to shrink a growing budget deficit in Georgia, so it stands to reason that if there isn't a new stream of revenue, HOPE scholarship suffers. A legal sports betting platform has been identified as one way to generate those necessary funds.
The Bill is being backed by…
It’s not only a host of legislators that would welcome legal sports betting in Georgia. The Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance which includes the most prominent professional sports franchises in the state have also signaled a desire to welcome the platform. The Alliance is currently made up of MLB's Atlanta Braves, the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and the MLS's Atlanta United.
Like most states, especially sports-mad ones like Georgia, there is an appetite for legal sports betting. Legislators, sports teams and fans are waiting on a decision and one looks more likely to come sooner rather than later with the latest news out of the state.