Georgia state lawmaker filed legislation last week to legalize online sports betting in the state, aiming to expand gambling without the constitutional amendment that is usually required.
House Tourism and Economic Development Chairman Ron Stephens of Savannah filed a bill Thursday that would authorize the Georgia Lottery to manage an online sports wagering system, with some proceeds going to fund HOPE scholarships, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
Backers of sports betting have said the illegal sports betting market in Georgia is $1.5 billion, so it only makes sense for the state to regulate the system. “It’s anticipated to bring upward of $100 million in tax revenue,” Stephens said. The lottery contributed $1.2 billion to education programs such as the HOPE scholarship in fiscal 2020.
House Bill 86 would see sports betting companies pay a 16% tax on their income, with all the revenue going to the HOPE scholarship. Players would have to be over 21 to bet and be in Georgia to place a wager.
The legislation is backed by the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance, a coalition of four professional Atlanta sports franchises — the Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta United.
Atlanta Braves President and CEO Derek Schiller said this was the first policy issue that brought all four franchises together when the alliance was formed in 2019. “We don’t receive direct revenue from this,” Schiller said. “This is good for our fans, we think, from a fan engagement perspective. But it’s also good for the state because it drives new tax revenue to the state, especially in this unique time that we’re in and going to be recovering from.”
After years of failed attempts to expand legal gambling through a constitutional amendment, which would require two-thirds support in each chamber of the Legislature and a majority of Georgia voters, Stephens said betting could be legalized through legislation that needs a lower threshold of support. He said he plans to file legislation in the next few weeks that would ask voters whether they want to allow casinos and horse racing in the state as well. He filed the bill that would legalize sports betting first because it only needs support from half of each chamber’s members.
“We’re putting the path of least resistance first,” Stephens said. “Then, hopefully, it would build the momentum to get the other ones through.”