Georgia Senate sports betting bill gets first look in House

With just over two weeks remaining in the legislative session, and more than five weeks after the Senate passed SB 386, a statewide mobile sports betting bill got its first hearing in the Georgia House Tuesday.

There was no vote in the House Higher Education Committee, and there could be more discussion later this week, though the committee chairman said a vote is not imminent.

Several representatives from daily fantasy companies testified that they’d like their contests added to the bill and multiple representatives from faith-based and anti-gambling groups testified in opposition.

The bill would allow for 16 online sports betting licences, including eight that would be tethered to professional sports franchises or organisations in the state.

A further seven freestanding licences would be up for grabs, and one licence earmarked for the Georgia Lottery, which would also serve as regulator. The bill differs slightly from previous proposals, and does include a Senate amendment that would send the final decision to the voters.

All of Georgia’s major professional sports teams plus the Augusta Country Club, PGA Tour, and Atlanta Motor Speedway/NASCAR would all be eligible for licenses.

Six years after the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was struck down by the US Supreme Court and 35+ US jurisdictions now offer some form of live sports betting, Georgia is the biggest state seriously considering a wagering proposal this year.

Next step: ‘Marry’ constitutional amendment, framework

Bill sponsor Sen. Clint Dixon (pictured) told committee members that betting on college sports would be available, that the tax rate would be set at 20%, and that accounts could “only be funded with cash”. The application fee for licenses would be $100,000 and there would be a $1m annual renewal fee.

Tuesday’s hearing was more informational than anything else, as Dixon walked committee members through questions about the addition of the constitutional amendment, about whether or not daily fantasy sports were included in the bill, and about how the state would spend tax funds from sports betting.

Committee chair Chuck Martin was clear in saying that the proposal was the one that passed the Senate and that Tuesday’s plan was “to sound the Senator’s changes to the enabling legislation”.

Martin said the Senate amendment that would add the constitutional amendment to the proposal doesn’t line up with the current proposal. It would be up to the House “marry” both pieces of legislation before a floor vote, he added.

Could DFS be added to Georgia sports betting bill?

With regard to fantasy sports, a bill that would have legalised it died in the House 1 March. Several delegates suggested they would like to see the sports betting bill amended to include DFS.

Fantasy operator PrizePicks is headquartered in Atlanta, and Dixon said he would be open to amending the bill to include fantasy sports.

PrizePicks director of government affairs Stuart Wilkinson spoke in support of adding DFS to the bill, saying he’d shared what he hopes could be model legislation used not just in Georgia, but in other US states. Wilkinson also said that legalising and regulating fantasy sports betting could bring in additional tax revenue beyond what is projected for sports betting.

Kayla Lott, on behalf of the Coalition for Fantasy Sports (representing PrizePicks, Underdog, and Betr), also asked that fantasy sports be included in the bill.

Appreciate the work of GA Council for Recovery!
Will the council take preventative action to OPPOSE GAMBLING EXPANSION in GA? Addiction help-line calls have skyrocketed in every state that’s legalized Sports Betting!
Georgia can still stop it!

— Moms Against Gambling (@NOGamblinginGA) March 9, 2024

Faith-based and social groups argued against the bill, with Citizen Impact’s Paul Smith saying that it is “bad for Georgia and bad for Georgia families”.

Dr. John Kent, who said he was testifying on behalf of his 13 grandchildren shared the slogans “Lose your tots to online slots” and “Click your mouse, lose your house”.

On balance those opposed fear the social cost of legal wagering will outweigh the financial gain for the state.

As an example, Brianne Doura-Schawohl on behalf of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling shared a New Jersey study that claims while the state brought in $385m in gambling taxes, the social cost from welfare payments, homelessness, and criminal justice, was $350m.

With regard to how tax funds would be spent, the bill currently splits proceeds between the lottery and educational initiatives. There was some discussion about further refining which educational programs specifically would be funded.

A political football?

The Georgia General Assembly is set to adjourn 28 March. Georgia lawmakers have a history of discussing a gambling expansion and then failing to act or using it as a political football.

In 2021, lawmakers had consensus for a statewide mobile betting bill. At the last minute, the Democrats pulled their votes after the state’s Republicans passed a controversial voting rights bill.

In 2023 and 2022, there was no consensus, as well as vocal opposition from the anti-gambling lobby.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *