Sports gambling bill in Georgia making progress

close up of sports betting slip and pen

After a rocky roller coaster ride over the past couple of years, sports gambling in the state of Georgia might be on smooth tracks toward the finish line. The state’s legislative session began on January 11 and already had included on its agenda several sports gambling bills. One that looks to introduce mobile sports gambling to Georgia has passed its first test, safely getting through the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee this week. There are still many more obstacles in the way, but sports gambling supporters in the state have to take each one as it comes along. 

It wasn’t too surprising that House Bill 86 was approved by the House committee. Its chairman, Representative Ron Stephens, is behind the bill, but there were six lawmakers on the committee who still don’t seem to understand the importance of legalized sports gambling. The bill was approved by a vote of 20-6, hopefully an indication that future votes will swing favorably toward approval. 

If the bill survives as it’s written, which only rarely happens, the Georgia Lottery Corp. would oversee the sports gambling market and be able to approve at least six sports gambling licenses. The licenses would run $900,000 each year, in addition to the initial $50,000 application fee. The Lottery would also be responsible for managing the collection of taxes from the operators, which would be used, in part, to provide funding for Georgia’s HOPE college scholarship program. Stephens has already found one adjustment to his bill, with the tax rate dropping from 16% to 14%. However, he explains that, even at 10%, sports gambling would contribute at least $42 million annually in tax revenue. 

House Bill 86 includes language that would prohibit wagers on college and high school sports competitions, a point of contention that has caused issues in other states already. However, Stephens has some competition that tries to open the sports gambling market a little and offer greater flexibility. Senator Jeff Mullis has a bill prepared that would tax sportsbooks at 10% and allow college sports wagers. That bill is expected to be introduced soon.

The benefit to House Bill 86 is that it authorizes online sports gambling, inarguably the most lucrative segment of everything available. This, asserts Stephens, means that no state constitutional amendment would be required, which could lead to a much simpler process of approval. The bill would only need to find majority support in both legislative chambers and the governor, instead of having to go through those mazes in addition to being approved by the majority of Georgia’s voters in a public vote.

As usual, the subject of sports gambling in the state is getting some resistance, with opponents arguing that a legal sports gambling market would encourage young people to gamble, an assertion that has never been backed up by science. What has been backed up by science, however, is the fact that millions of dollars are being spent annually on offshore sportsbooks, which leads to a loss of revenue for states. Stephens is aware of this and adds, “We can legitimize it, if you will, through the lottery. If you’re going to do it offshore, why don’t we collect the revenue here in Georgia?”