ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) – A bipartisan group of state senators have drafted a bill that would legalize online sports betting in Georgia, a law that, if passed, that generate hundreds of millions of dollars for state education coffers.
The Georgia Sports Betting Integrity Act is designed to provide “continuing entertainment to the public, maximizes revenues, and ensures that sports betting is operated in this state with integrity and dignity and free of political influence.”
The bill’s authors represent a diverse mixture of lawmakers from several distinctly different regions: Republicans Billy Hickman (Statesboro), Clint Dixon (Gwinnett) and Brandon Beach (Alpharetta); and Democrats Ed Harbison (Columbus) and Freddie Powell Sims (Dawson).
Quietly defeated in the last legislative session, the issue of legal, online sports betting in Georgia was certain to come before lawmakers next year.
This time, supporters are hoping the massive amounts of revenue sure to be generated from legalized sports betting will make the measure impossible to reject. Gov. Brian Kemp’s office issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying it does not comment on legislation as it moves through the General Assembly.
More than $50 billion was wagered on sports last year, all legally, according to data compiled by the American Gaming Association. Sportsbooks are projected to spend $2 billion on advertising this year, partnering with the NFL and other major sports leagues to expand business. Right now the American Gaming Association says sports betting is legal in 31 states and Washington DC.
“We’ve reached a point in the U.S. where a majority of states have either legalized or have already implemented some form of legal sports betting,” said Geoff Zochodne, a sports betting journalist for Covers, a website providing statistics and advice to sports bettors. “That includes states such as Tennessee, which has an all online form of sports betting; all the sports books are mobile or on another internet connected device.
“That includes as Virginia, which had an online only model but is now beginning diversifying to brick-and-mortar gaming. So it really has been a state by state process where each one has kind of settled on the model that legislators feel is right for them.”
“Where you have states that allow both online and retail, in-person sports betting, online sports betting gets more attention,” Zochodne said. “It’s a lot easier to place a bet from the comfort of your home without having to drive to a facility. In most states with those two options, 80% to 90% of wagering happens through online sports books.”
Introduced in the last legislative session was Senate Resolution 135, which would created a ballot question to allowing voters to remove the restrictions on legalized gambling from the state constitution; it was sponsored by state Sens. Jeff Mullis (R-Rock Spring) and Bill Cowsert (R-Athens).
Senate Bill 142 would have asked voters to decide whether to allow online sports betting in the state, but not other types of gambling like casinos and horse racing tracks. But neither effort ever made it to the House of Representatives’ floor for debate.
“It’s just a shame that we’ve got to wait two more years,” said state Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), a supporter of online sports betting, who said legislative leaders were responsible for snuffing out his most recent push to legalize sports betting earlier this year.
“If this thing had gotten to the House, it would have passed, and it would have passed bipartisan,” Stephens said.
The hang-up happened in the House Rules Committee, where Stephens said representatives of Georgia’s wealthiest districts didn’t like using the proposed tax revenue to help fund HOPE scholarships and Pre-K on a needs-basis, rather than a merit basis.
“It’s unfortunate we didn’t get the vote, and it’s even more unfortunate that people of Georgia didn’t get an opportunity to vote on it,” he said.
Sports betting is now legal in 36 states and Washington, D.C. Mobile sports betting is now legal in 26 states, up from 18 in January 2022, according to Forbes.
More money was wagered in 2022 through online betting in New York than any other state, $14.8 billion. More than $637 million was collected by state and local jurisdictions.
Only one bordering state, Tennessee, has legal online sports betting, while North Carolina has legal in-person sports betting.
Even as sports betting has stalled in Georgia, sportsbook giant FanDuel has already quietly moved into Midtown’s hugely popular Ponce City Market, with a tech hub on the third floor and a promise of 900 employees in five years, all in state where sports better isn’t even legal.
“Just look at the landscape of what’s already happened,” Zochodne said. “We’ve seen the developments of what happened in the legislature, and it seems like this is going to be a topic that comes up again. Regardless of what happens in the governor’s race, this is going to be an issue that’s going to be revisited by the legislature next year.”
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