Georgia Readies Sports Betting Debate
Georgia Readies Sports Betting Debate
Georgia legislators, struggling with depressed tax revenue and tightening budgets, are looking at sports betting as a possible way to boost discretionary spending and keep popular education programs alive in the state.
“I believe (sports betting is) coming sooner rather than later to Georgia,” Georgia representative Billy Mitchell told the Atlanta Business Chronicle. “(Casinos could) produce opportunities to have a vehicle to do sports betting as well. I must say that if everyone gambled like I did, they all would be out of business, even the lottery.”
Mitchell is one of many legislators in Georgia hoping to save the HOPE scholarship program that has been the chief benefactor from the state’s lottery program. But with declining participation, the scholarship fund is beginning to struggle with the demand, a problem that legalizing sports betting could solve.
For Mitchell, legalizing sports betting may be the best alternative to providing the funding to give children from poor socioeconomic environments the opportunity to go to college.
“I like to say all the time there’s only two ways to get into Georgia’s premier universities — a great student and HOPE scholar or be a great athlete,” he said. “There’s no other way you’re going to be able to get into Georgia’s and Georgia Tech’s of the world. It’s kept our best and brightest at home.”
Governor Brian Kemp has rejected previous drives to expand gambling in the state, but he has recently signaled that he will not get in the way of sports betting if state legislators pass a constitutional amendment as long as the proceeds go directly to the HOPE scholarship fund.
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Georgia Sports Betting Has Support of State’s Professional Teams
One of the biggest obstacles to sports betting has been cleared as the state’s four biggest professional teams have all given their blessing to bring wagering to Georgia.
The NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, the MLB’s Atlanta Braves, the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and the MLS’ Atlanta United FC have all joined a coalition to push for the legalization of online sports betting in Georgia.
For the teams, sports betting is an avenue to increase fan engagement and make for a more festive atmosphere at games.
“There might be some ad dollars but it’s all about fan engagement,” said Hawks CEO Steve Koonin. “Why does the last quarter of a 38-0 Monday night [NFL] game still rate higher than anything else? Honestly, to see who wins the over/under.”
On a conference call last month, Greg Maffei, CEO of the Braves’ parent company, Liberty Media, told reporters, ““I do think it’s both somewhat of a revenue opportunity, but perhaps even more of a fan engagement opportunity, which will just strengthen baseball.”
What Could Stop Sports Betting in Georgia?
There is growing opposition to sports betting in the state and it is coming from conservative groups that see widespread wagering as a problem that could hurt families and cause a rise in gambling addictions.
Billy Linville, a lobbyist on behalf of the professional teams’ coalition says that the legislation can be crafted to address their concerns.
“Any legislation that we will support will have strict regulations, rigorous consumer protection with taxation of revenues, tools to help the integrity of the game, but also to help law enforcement eradicate illegal sports wagering,” Linville said. “We’re really going to bring it out of the darkness into the light.”
Georgia sports betting legislation could take on several forms, including an online-only option that may be the easiest avenue to approving a measure without needing a constitutional amendment.