A new bill legalizing sports wagering in Georgia and provide tax revenue to the state lottery is advancing rapidly in the Georgia State House, despite questions about whether a state constitutional amendment would be required for passage.
The House Tourism and Economic Development Committee voted 26-0 last Tuesday to pass legislation sponsored by its chairman, Georgia State Rep. Ron Stephens. The bill would authorize the Georgia Lottery to manage an online sports wagering system. Sports betting companies would pay a 14% tax on their total income.
Named House Bill 86, it would authorize the Georgia Lottery to manage an online sports wagering system, with a portion of the proceeds provided to fund HOPE college scholarships. Rep. Stephens has also filed legislation that would put a question on an upcoming ballot asking Georgia voters to support allowing onsite location casinos in the state.
The measure would mandate that the Georgia Lottery Corp would award at least six licenses to companies that want to offer sports betting in Georgia. He has estimated a 10% tax rate that would bring in $42 million for the state to provide for HOPE and for subsidies involving pre-kindergarten classes and childcare.
In addition to the licenses, each operator would be required to pay a $900,000 per year license fee. Players would have to be over 21 to bet, be in Georgia to place a wager, and could only bet on professional sporting events. All wagering on college games would not be permitted.
Making comments before the committee Stephens said:
It’s for fan participation. As I said earlier, the stands are empty…. they believe that fan engagement is what sports betting is all about. We can legitimize it, if you will, through the lottery. If you are going to do it offshore, why don’t we collect the revenue here in Georgia?
Stephens remains confident that lawmakers could authorize the Georgia Lottery Corporation to offer sports wagering in this new version. Originally, state voters authorized the lottery by state constitutional amendment in 1992. Other legislators including some state government lawyers have questioned whether that would be legal here, suggesting another constitutional amendment would be needed. Any such measure would require approval by two-thirds of each house of the General Assembly followed by a majority approval by Georgia voters.
Another issue has been common in other Southern states seeking to legalize gaming, opponents say state-sponsored gambling encourages addiction and other social harms. They also do not want to extend past Georgia’s hugely popular lottery saying they are trying to avoid legislative support for a constitutional amendment allowing for new casinos.
Making comment on the issue during Tuesday’s meeting State Rep. Miriam Paris (D-Macon) offered this opinion:
I feel like we really need to have something in place for people that get caught up into this trap, because people are really going broke. Every time I see that (prize) number on billboards, I know that poor people make that number happen.
In debating that opinion Stephens mentioned that the legislation as drafted directs sports facilities to post signs with a support hotline telephone number for people who struggle with gambling addiction. He said the lottery also spends about $400,000 a year for addiction programs.
Georgia’s strategy might be echoing impressive positive early results gained by bordering Tennessee, which has been the first state to adopt a mobile/online-only sports wagering plan. In November and December along, the Volunteer State has handled more than $312 million, the best initial start for any US state.
Nearby Alabama and South Carolina are currently making strides toward sports wagering legislation for 2021. But the best advantage Georgia could gain is moving now while giant neighboring market Florida has not yet to seriously begin facing the issue.
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Larry Gibbs is both a seasoned journalist and a respected online gaming industry consultant. His wry commentary & sharp analysis have appeared in numerous top gaming and sports wagering publications. He has also served as Vice President of US Gaming Services, a marketing research organization with 15 years of experience in US online wagering. He has spoken at noted gaming industry conferences including G2E, GiGSE, and NCLGS.
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