ATLANTA — Legalizing sports betting in Georgia would convert what’s already going on illegally into a regulated activity that would offer greater protection for consumers and much-needed tax revenue for the state, supporters said on March 3.
Top executives with Atlanta’s pro sports teams and gaming industry lobbyists urged the state Senate’s Regulated Industries Committee to pass legislation to allow sports betting online and steer a portion of the proceeds to education.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Burt Jones, is modeled after Tennessee, which recently took advantage of a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing states to legalize sports betting by setting up an online sports book in the Volunteer State.
Jones, R-Jackson, argued the Georgia Lottery has become financially strapped in recent years as increasing demand for lottery-funded HOPE scholarships has outstripped the growth of ticket sales. The General Assembly passed legislation in 2011 that has gradually reduced the percentage of tuition HOPE covers for all but the highest-achieving students.
“If we don’t do something to evolve the lottery system … we’re going to be in a situation 10 years from now that’s almost desperate,” Jones said.
The CEOs of the Atlanta Braves, Hawks and Falcons testified they need sports betting to better connect with a younger fan base increasingly fixated on their digital gadgets.
“The future of being a sports fan is about having dialogue with your team,” Braves CEO Derek Schiller said.
“It’s about engagement, having something to do while watching a game, multi-tasking,” added Hawks CEO Steve Koonin.
Stacie Stern, manager of government affairs for FanDuel, which has expanded its online business from fantasy sports into sports betting, said legalizing sports betting in Georgia would add a level of consumer protection not available as long as the activity remains illegal. She said bettors would have to set up an account and fund it, so they couldn’t run up a huge credit card bill.
“Bettors are not betting with a digital equivalent of an IOU,” Stern said.
Jones’ bill also would require bettors to be at least 21 years of age. Companies offering apps under Georgia’s sports betting program would be required to have “geofencing” technology to ensure all betting takes place inside the state.
It’s unclear whether legalizing sports betting in Georgia would require a constitutional amendment. Jones introduced one several days after putting in his sports betting bill as a precaution.
But on Tuesday, Atlanta lawyer Robert Highsmith told committee members the legislation creating the Georgia Lottery specifically prohibited casinos and pari-mutuel on horse racing but said nothing about sports betting.
“If you can offer Keno on an app, surely a sports book isn’t a far departure from that,” he said.
The committee did not vote on Jones’ bill Tuesday. With the General Assembly headed toward “Crossover Day” next week, the deadline for bills to pass at least one legislative chamber, the panel likely would have to vote on the measure at its next meeting Thursday in order to keep it alive.