Legislators revived a dormant Georgia sports betting bill Friday as the state wrestles with pandemic-induced budget issues.
The Senate Special Judiciary Committee tacked the sports wagering measure onto HB 903, an unrelated bill about traffic tickets that passed the House in March. The measure now moves to the Senate floor, bringing sports betting in Georgia closer to reality than previously expected.
Sen. Burt Jones sponsored the original bill and spoke Friday about regulating a currently illegal activity for state benefit, according to the Augusta Chronicle:
“This right here, the online betting program, is I think an answer to adding significant revenue dollars to a system [that] moving down the road will continue to need more dollars,” Jones said. “And you’re taking an activity that is currently going on right now.”
What Georgia sports betting would look like
Jones modeled SB 403, the initial version of the bill, after Tennessee sports betting legislation. The Volunteer State will feature only online sports betting, as well as a 20% tax rate and an official league data mandate for in-play wagers.
Jones proposed a 10% tax on Georgia sports betting revenue, though he expressed willingness in March to raise that rate. The Senate bill also calls for a $900,000 annual license fee with no cap on the number of operators.
Jones said Friday that $60 million in revenue from sports wagering is a reasonable estimate.
The bill enjoyed support from a coalition of Atlanta professional sports teams. Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin testified Friday, pushing sports betting as a method to reach fans, according to the Chronicle:
“During this difficult time for our professional sports teams, maintaining and building our engagement and relationship with fans is absolutely critical,” Koonin said.
How the GA bill got here
SB 403 perished quietly in committee after Jones introduced it, never receiving a vote. Desperate times can change hearts and minds, however.
Georgia faces a multibillion-dollar budget deficit caused largely by the COVID-19 pandemic. It became one of the first states to end virus-related shutdowns in recent weeks.
Whether state legislators can legalize sports betting without changing Georgia’s constitution remains in question. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in March that attorneys for the legislature recommended pursuing an amendment for sports wagering.
The bill places sports betting under the purview of the Georgia Lottery Corporation, possibly as an attempt to sidestep the constitutional issue.