Georgia Warms to the Idea of Sports Betting by Summer 2021

Georgia lawmakers have decided to get serious about introducing legal online sports betting to the Peach State and have planted another bill for debate.

State House Tourism and Economic Development Chairman Ron Stephens lodged a bill which would legalize sports wagering in the state, placing it firmly under state regulatory control.

Although Georgia just went Democratic “blue” in the presidential and dual Senate elections, it has long been a political and socially conservative state (outside of Atlanta and Savannah), with the state lottery as the only legal form of gambling, with a few offshore casino cruises operating in non-pandemic times.

Stephens and five other lawmaking co-sponsors recently filed HB 86, which would potentially legalize online sports wagering through the Georgia Lottery.

Sports Betting Revenue to Improve Georgia Education Opportunities

The online sportsbooks and bricks-and-mortar retail sportsbook operators would pay a tax of 16% of their adjusted gross revenues. Revenue generated from Georgia sports betting would potentially go toward the HOPE Scholarship program, which awards full or partial scholarships to eligible Georgia high school students who go on to attend in-state universities and colleges. The scholarship program has been a popular since its creation in 1993 due to accessible entry levels and generous stipends. The scholarship program has been growing from a mere annual budget of $21.4 million back in ‘93, and increasing now to more than $700 million per year.

Advocates of legalizing sports betting in Georgia argue that the Peach State is losing out on millions of dollars in potential tax revenue to illegal sports wagering.

“Georgia folks are doing it now,” said Stephens, the sports betting legalization bill’s co-sponsor. “All we’re going to do is capture the tax and put it in the HOPE Scholarship.”

Previous efforts to legalize sports wagering in Georgia, in addition to pari-mutuel betting on horse racing and casino gaming, have been long been stymied by the requirement that any proposed constitutional amendments require two-thirds majorities to pass in both the Senate and the House.

This time it is different – Georgia to copy Tennessee

However, there are major differences this year. In 2021, sports betting is being introduced to legislators as a state statue rather than a constitutional change. In that scenario, passing the bill only requires simple majorities in each of the two legislative chambers.

What’s more, being possibly passed as a state statute, the bill could take effect immediately upon the Governor’s signature (or allowing it to pass directly into law without signature), rather than having to go before election-weary Georgia voters in a statewide referendum.

The bill of Stephens and his 5 co-sponsors would prohibit Georgians under the age of 21 from participating in sports wagering. Betting on college or high school games would also be disallowed.

Bettors would require to be physically located in Georgia to place sports wagers; a requirement that would need to be enforced with geolocation technology.

The new Georgia sports betting bill is shaped after online sports betting legislation that was first introduced in the Volunteer State in 2019. In November 2020, its first month of operation, Tennessee generated $131.4 million in sports wagers, creating almost $2.4 million in tax revenue. Both numbers were records for any state in their debut sports betting month.

Basing any Georgia Sports Betting model on Tennessee makes perfect sense, as neither state have had any heritage of casino gaming or other forms of legal sports wagering to fall back upon.

As debate continues in the state’s legislature, it is important to note that sports betting has the influential backing of a coalition formed by Atlanta’s four pro sports teams: the Falcons, Hawks, Braves and Atlanta United.

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