Long-awaited legal sports betting in the state of Georgia is inching closer to becoming a reality during this time of COVID-19 and the effects it is having on state and local governments. Legislators are being forced into looking for new revenue generating options for their tapped-out coffers and just as in other states, Georgia’s lawmakers are looking at sports wagering as a quick and easy way to mitigate some of that pain.
Despite efforts in the past to get something done in The Peach State on legal sports betting, support just wasn’t there in the state House and Senate.
But a new effort by Georgia Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, and five other co-sponsors has given new light to the possibility of a legal sports betting platform for the state. The team filed HB 86, which would legalize sports betting through the Georgia Lottery and is give the platform new life.
“It’s the easiest one to pass,” said Stephens, chairman of the House Economic Development & Tourism Committee. “It clearly does not require a constitutional amendment. … It’s just a matter of us giving the [Georgia] Lottery Commission direction and authority they already have.”
HB 86’s plan is to run it through the Georgia Lottery, which will bypass the need for the complicated process of a constitutional amendment. The funds generated would fund the HOPE Scholarship and pre-K programs – millions of dollars raised would go toward the HOPE Scholarship in that state.
The licensing fee will be $50,000 on top of a heavy and some-say unattractive large annual licensing fee of $900,000. The risk here is that sports betting providers will not be able to justify this fee. On the flip side, legislators hope that those same providers see the immense value in the Georgia market and not think twice about the hefty annual fee.
The tax rate is set at 16% – pretty high as far as other states go. That means more for the state’s education program. “Georgia just aims to capture those revenues for what people are already doing,” said Rep. Ron Stephens.
Reality Setting In?
There is no shortage of US state’s successes with their own legal sports betting platforms. Georgia legislators don’t have to look far to see how legalization has been a boon for jurisdictions around the country.
In Tennessee, the model Georgia hopes to adopt – online sports betting produced $131.4 million in wagering last month alone. New Jersey just reported over $6 billion in bets for 2020 – $5.53 billion or about 92% was wagered online and revenues for the entire year there came in at $398.5 million. $7.6 million in taxes was paid to the state in December alone.
It is no secret that illegal sports betting is going on in Georgia anyway. “Billions of dollars a year are already being gambled in Georgia and the state gets nothing, no tax, no benefit,” said Steve Koonin the Atlanta Hawks CEO.
Atlanta’s four professional sports teams – the Braves, Falcons, Hawks and Atlanta United all not only support a legal sports betting platform, they are counting on it to help them through their own set of COVID issues. Generating revenue is crucial for those clubs during this time of limited capacity in their stadiums.
Border states of Alabama, South Carolina and, Florida have yet to move on their own legal sporting platform – Georgia could be the only legal jurisdiction in the south. Opportunity for inflated monthly handles due to cross-state bettors awaits Georgia – if and when they are able to launch their own platform.
Everything Is Lining Up
Those in charge of possible legalization of sports betting in Georgia seem to be hitting all of the right notes as lawmakers return to work. Underfunded educational programs have been identified to receive the bulk of the high tax rate and the Lottery will be in control, which takes the necessity of a constitutional amendment out of the picture.
Georgia has a lot to gain by getting in on the legal sports betting game and once mature, it could elevate into the elite category, alongside New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan. Hopes are that a firm plan and a better understanding of Georgia’s chances at a legal sports betting platform will come in the next few months. Stay tuned.