Georgia House Committee OKs Sports Betting Measure

A Georgia House committee led by Rep. Ron Stephens (l.) has voted 20-6 in favor of a sports betting bill. The state lottery would regulate the industry. Betting would not be allowed on collegiate sports.

The Georgia House Economic Development and Tourism Committee recently voted 20-6 to approve House Bill 86, which would legalize on-site and online sports betting and direct tax revenue to the state lottery. The bill has been sent to the full House for further debate.

Under the proposal, the Georgia Lottery Corp. would regulate sports betting and grant six licenses to operators. The annual licensing fee would be $900,000. Revenue would be taxed at 14 percent. Committee Chairman Ron Stephens said even at a 10 percent, the HOPE scholarship program could receive $42 million a year.

Stephens said the bill would require bettors to be at least 21 years of age. It would prohibit betting on college or high school sports, as well as on certain events like injuries.

Some state government lawyers have questioned whether a constitutional amendment would be required to legalize sports betting. An amendment would need the approval of two-thirds of each legislative chamber and a majority of voters.

Stephens said state Senator Jeff Mullis is expected to file a bill in the Senate proposing a 10 percent tax rate and allowing wagering on collegiate sports. That legislation has not yet been filed.

Atlanta’s four major league professional sports teams support the measure. Stephens noted the teams haven’t been able to fill stadiums due to Covid-19. “It’s for fan participation. As I said earlier, the stands are empty. They believe that fan engagement is what sports betting is all about,” he stated.

In addition, he noted an American Gaming Association study said millions of Georgians place billions of dollars in illegal sports bets each year. “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?” Stephens said.

Opponents, such as Georgia Baptist Mission Board spokesman Mike Griffin, said state-sponsored gambling encourages addiction and other social problems. Griffin stated, “They should think this is terrible because it’s going to accentuate everything that’s negative about predatory gambling. All this is going to do is prime children to get ready to gamble one day.”