ATLANTA – Online sports betting would come to Georgia under legislation introduced in the state House of Representatives Friday.
Under a bill sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens, a longtime proponent of legalized gambling, at least six sports betting operators would be licensed by the Georgia Lottery Corp., paying application fees of $50,000 and annual licensing fees of $900,000.
The operators would pay a tax of 16% of their adjusted gross revenues. The money would go toward education, including the popular HOPE Scholarships program.
Supporters of legalizing gambling in Georgia argue the state is losing millions of dollars in potential tax revenue to illegal gambling.
“Georgia folks are doing it now,” said Stephens, R-Savannah. “All we’re going to do is capture the tax and put it in the HOPE Scholarship.”
Previous efforts to legalize sports betting in Georgia, as well as casinos and pari-mutuel betting on horse racing, have been handicapped by the requirement that proposed constitutional amendments receive two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate.
But this year, sports betting is being introduced as a statue rather than a constitutional change. As such, passing it only requires simple majorities in each legislative chamber.
Also, as a statute, the bill could take effect immediately upon the governor’s signature, rather than having to go before Georgia voters in a statewide referendum.
Stephens’ bill would prohibit Georgians under age 21 from engaging in sports betting. Wagering on high school or college games also would be forbidden.
Bettors would have to be physically located in Georgia to place a bet, a requirement that would be enforced with geofencing technology.
The bill is modeled after online sports betting legislation that took effect in Tennessee last fall. In November, its first month, the Volunteer State generated $131.4 million in wagers, yielding almost $2.4 million in tax revenue.
As a statute rather than a constitutional amendment, Stephens’ bill would have to go to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk rather than bypassing the governor and going straight to Georgia voters.
Kemp opposes legalized gambling and could veto the bill. However, sports betting enjoys bipartisan support in the General Assembly.
The measure’s cosponsors include three Republicans – Reps. Matt Dollar of Marietta, Lee Hawkins of Gainesville and Shelly Hutchinson of Snellville – and two Democrats, Reps. Billy Mitchell of Stone Mountain and Al Williams of Midway.
Sports betting also has the influential backing of a coalition formed by Atlanta’s four pro teams: the Braves, Falcons, Hawks and Atlanta United.
This story available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a service of the Georgia Press Education Foundation.