Sports Betting Gets First Airing in Georgia House

Dave Williams

Wednesday, March 13th, 2024

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Legislation legalizing sports betting in Georgia that the state Senate passed last month got its first hearing Tuesday in the state House of Representatives.

Under Senate Bill 386, the Georgia Lottery Corp. would oversee sports betting, awarding licenses to 16 sports betting providers, Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Buford, the bill’s chief sponsor, told members of the House Higher Education Committee.

Five licenses would go to Atlanta’s professional sports teams: the Braves, Falcons, Hawks, Dream and Atlanta United. The Augusta National Golf Club, the Professional Golf Association (PGA), and the Atlanta Motor Speedway would receive one license each.

The other seven “untethered” licenses would be open to sports betting providers through a bidding process. The lottery corporation also would receive one license.

The bill would dedicate 20% of the adjusted gross revenues derived from sports betting to Georgia’s HOPE Scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs.

The original version of the Senate measure called for legalizing sports betting without a constitutional amendment that would put the issue before Georgia voters in a statewide referendum. But an amendment was added to the bill on the Senate floor requiring a constitutional amendment before sports betting could become law.

The Senate also has passed a sports betting constitutional amendment in a separate resolution. It differs from Senate Bill 386 in several respects, including a provision setting aside a portion of the tax revenue from sports betting for an education program on the dangers of problem gambling.

During Monday’s hearing on the bill, both committee members and lobbyists suggested changes to Senate Bill 386, including a provision that would add fantasy sports to the mix.

Stuart Wilkinson, director of government affairs for Atlanta-based PrizePicks, a fantasy sports operator, said adding fantasy sports could generate $40 million to $50 million a year in Georgia on top of the estimated $100 million sports betting could be expected to raise in the Peach State annually.

Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton, said the House should consider limiting the number of wagers a bettor could make over a daily or weekly period as a way to address problem gambling.

“This kind of protection will go a long way to addressing problem gambling,” he said.

Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, said any funds put toward problem gambling should come from the sports betting operators, not out of the state’s share of the proceeds.

“I don’t think it should come out of the money the state is going to get,” he said. “It ought to come our of their hide.”

Representatives of several faith-based groups spoke out in opposition to legalizing sports betting. They argued sports betting is a particularly addictive form of gambling that tends to prey upon young men.

“This kind of gambling is nothing more than state-sponsored predatory gambling,” said Mike Griffin, public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.

Paul Smith, executive director of the Christian public policy organization Citizen Impact, said the odds in any referendum on sports betting would be stacked against the opponents of legalized gambling.

“If it does go to the voters … history tells us the gambling industry will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince Georgians this is good for Georgia,” he said.

The committee did not vote on the bill Tuesday. Committee Chairman Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, said lawmakers have a lot of work ahead to make sure Dixon’s bill jives with the language in Senate Resolution 579, the constitutional amendment passed by the Senate.