Georgia lawmakers have allowed safe passage of HB 86, (20 votes to 6) which would potentially legalize online sports wagering through the Georgia Lottery and allow for mobile sports betting only, much like what is available in nearby Tennessee. The bill sailed through the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee with little opposition and State House Representative Ron Stephens of Savanah put it simply;
“We believe that the folks ought to just make it another lottery game,” Rep. Stephens, who is also Chairman of the Committee, said. The move could put through sports betting simply without any requirement for a constitutional amendment.
“This is an opportunity for us to add a small amount of revenue — $40 million — into the current mechanism that we use to fund the HOPE scholarship,” the Savannah Republican added.
Sports Betting Revenue to Add to HOPE Education Scholarships
When initially begun way back in 1992, state law directed the Georgia Lottery to set aside as close as possible to 35% of its profit to fund the scholarship, however, since the program began, the Lottery has sent about 25% of their revenue on to state education programs, well below expectations. Rep. Stephens estimated that sports betting would generate an additional $43 million in revenue for the Georgia Lottery.
The opposing view is one of concern that sports betting is some kind of gateway pastime to something more serious. State Representative, Randy Nix, a LaGrange Republican, pastor and member of the committee, said that he is in opposition to gambling in general and views sports betting as the beginning of a “slippery slope.”
“If this was going to be the end (simply legalizing online sports betting), it might be OK, but this is just starting us toward casinos and a lot of other things,” Nix said.
This Georgia Sports Betting Bill Ensures Responsible Gaming
In his role as Committee Chairperson, Stephens went on to add that the bill allays the concerns of Nix and other concerned representatives, as it includes a range of safeguards. Those protective measures are to include promoting responsible sports betting by requiring those who place wagers within Georgia’s state lines to be 21 years of age or older and most importantly, only allowing people to pay for their wagers on debit cards, prepaid vouchers or from web-wallet in the black, not credit cards nor other forms of credit payment.
Speaking proactively and realistically, the Committee Chairperson added;
“People are doing it anyway. We can’t stop it. They’re going to do this offshore and again, it’s a lot of the revenue that we’re just not receiving. Our professional teams, of course, have engaged this particular bill because they want fan involvement. This is a hook, especially for the younger generation,” said Representative Stephens.
The unique Georgia bill now heads to the House Rules Committee, which will need to decide if, when and how it makes it to the full House for a floor vote, and what the final bill might look like.
After some years of aborted and failed attempts to expand Georgia gaming, and to find for legal sports betting through a constitutional amendment, which would automatically trigger a two-thirds support in each chamber of the Legislature and a majority of Georgia voters, Stephens said that by continuing with this new bill, sports betting could be legalized in Georgia through legislation that only needs the backing of a majority of lawmakers and potentially, save the state tens of millions of dollars.
Additionally, the quicker the bill finds safe passage into law, the faster more HOPE scholarship applicants can fund their education. We are eagerly anticipating the results of the debate.