Georgia Holds Hearing on Sports Bets

In a Georgia Senate committee hearing on sports betting, lawmakers asked whether a constitutional amendment would be required to introduce the wagers. Pro teams like the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL playing in Mercedes Stadium (l.) in Atlanta, support efforts.

The Georgia Senate Regulated Industries Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 403, which would legalize sports betting on professional, college and Olympic sports. According to the Associated Press, people could bet from their phones anywhere in the state.

The bill’s chances are unclear.

Senator Burt Jones, a Republican from Jackson, said research estimates that $1.5 billion is wagered each year illegally, so why not make it legal.

“It’s found money, in the scheme of things,” Jones told the committee.

Jones introduced the bill amid questions about whether Georgia’s constitution needs to be amended to allow sports betting. As a result, Jones also introduced a constitutional amendment, even though he thinks the General Assembly can authorize sports betting without the amendment.

But Jeff Lanier, a lawyer for the General Assembly, told senators that bringing the issue to the voters could avoid a protracted legal struggle.

“You should go for the constitutional amendment while you have the opportunity,” Lanier said.

The act would create a Georgia Mobile Sports Wagering Integrity Commission, which could license online operators such as FanDuel and DraftKings. The gambling companies would only be able to take cash and debit cards, and the state would get 10 percent of the amount that operators win. The Associated Press indicated that could produce $15 million a year. Of that money, 5 percent would go to gambling addiction and the remaining 95 percent would go to fund college scholarships and pre-kindergarten classes, same as the lottery.

Steve Koonin, CEO of the Atlanta Hawks, supports the sports betting push.

“What we hope to receive in return is generations of fans who love the games we present,” Koonin said.

Opponents say sports betting is a more addictive form of gambling than the lottery or casinos, and that the state’s small stream of revenue would come with high social costs.

“We’re talking about 24/7 gambling on cell phones,” said John Kindt, an emeritus business professor at the University of Illinois. “Ten percent, at least, of our kids, are going to get hooked on this.”