Lawmakers Introduce Sports Betting Bill in Georgia

Money goes to education

Georgia lawmakers are stepping up to the sports betting plate yet again. On Thursday, House Tourism and Economic Development Chairman Ron Stephens filed a bill which would legalize the pastime in the state, putting it under the control of the Georgia Lottery. Though Georgia just went “blue” in the presidential and dual Senate elections, it has long been a socially conservative state (outside of Atlanta, at least), with the lottery as the only legal form of gambling.

Revenue from sports betting would go toward the HOPE Scholarship program, which awards partial or full scholarships to eligible Georgia high school students who attend in-state colleges and universities. It has been a runaway hit since its creation in 1993, largely because of its generous awards and achievable requirements.

The HOPE Scholarship is funded entirely by proceeds from the lottery, but its popularity has caused a financial strain, so much so that the eligibility requirements were tightened five years ago. Rather than just needing a 3.0 GPA (this is a simplification, but this has pretty much been the primary requirement), students must now also take a specific number of “academically rigorous” classes in high school.

The lottery also funds pre-K educational programs. It raised $1.2 billion for education in 2020.

Operators will have to pay

HB 86 is a bipartisan bill, sponsored by three Democrats and three Republicans. It calls for a minimum of six sports betting licenses, though that does not mean that if there are fewer than six applicants (there won’t be), that there wouldn’t be sports betting in Georgia.

The cost for operators is fairly steep. The application fee is $50,000 and the annual licensing fee is $900,000. The bill stipulates a tax rate of 16% on adjusted gross revenue.

Rep. Stephens told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “It’s anticipated to bring upward of $100 million in tax revenue. In the big scheme of things, it’s not a lot, but it’s an additional game that the lottery would offer.”

Critics think that is optimistic, but New Jersey just raked in almost $400 million for the year, so a quarter of that seems doable for a state that is top ten in population (and bigger than New Jersey).

First step in gambling expansion

Sports betting bills have been introduced in Georgia before, but none have made it very far. One hurdle is that a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate, but Stephens believes this could be done via legislation that doesn’t need that many votes.

He also plans to file bills in soon to legalize casinos and horse racing, hoping to get those on a statewide ballot referendum. He believes sports betting will be the easiest, though.

“We’re putting the path of least resistance first,” Stephens said. “Then, hopefully, it would build the momentum to get the other ones through.”

The Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance, composed of the Atlanta Braves, Hawks, United, and Falcons, supports the bill, as it will help fan interest and engagement. No money from sports betting would be earmarked to the teams or leagues.

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