People watch coverage of the first round of the NCAA college basketball tournament at the Westgate Superbook sports book in Las Vegas in 2018. The Supreme Court struck down a federal law that bars gambling on football, basketball, baseball and other sports in most states, giving states the go-ahead to legalize betting on sports. Georgia lawmakers are considering legalizing mobile sports wagering. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Photo: John Locher
Photo: John Locher

Opinion: Sports wagering would benefit consumers, Ga.

The 2018 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to allow individual states to decide whether to legalize sports wagering was not only judicious and rational, it was a recognition that sports wagering was already occurring on a massive scale and that states, therefore, should regulate it to protect consumers and capture the significant lost state revenue.

Since that decision, sports wagering laws have passed or are pending in 19 states, including the neighboring states of Tennessee and North Carolina.

It is estimated that by 2024, sports wagering laws will be legal in 40 states.

According to the American Gaming Association, wagering on sports is a more than $150 billion industry. In fact, the illegal betting market in Georgia is estimated to be $1.5 billion.

Here is an example of this burgeoning industry: Fans wagered $4.6 billion on the 2018 Super Bowl. Fully 97% of those wagers were illegal. We can assure you that fans prefer to place wagers in a safe, legal, regulated and transparent environment.

Therefore, the question isn’t whether Georgians are going to wager on sports. It’s whether they will wager in an illegal market without protections or wager in a fully regulated environment that protects consumers.

As a result, the four professional sports teams in Georgia — the Braves, Falcons, Hawks and United — have come together to form the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance to advocate for Georgia to legalize mobile sports wagering.

We strongly support the legislation sponsored by Georgia State Sen. Burt Jones, R-Jackson, SB 403, which will authorize the Georgia Lottery to manage an online sports wagering system that would benefit the state’s HOPE scholarship.

As mobile sports wagering would naturally fit under the current Georgia Lottery, a state constitutional amendment is not necessary.

SB 403 will:

  • Create strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards for consumers.
  • Bring significant state revenue to Georgia.
  • Benefit our state’s economy and the HOPE Scholarship.
  • Protect the integrity of the games and greatly enhance our engagement with fans, especially the younger generation.

SB 403 will create a regulatory commission that will provide oversight of mobile sports wagering and require a license for approved operators to administer the new wagering law. This will protect consumers through technological safeguards and ensure they are treated fairly. Just like the lottery, those who wager must be 21 years old and physically located in Georgia. There is a strict prohibition against wagering on credit.

If SB 403 becomes law, Georgia will begin to capture the revenue from mobile wagering that is currently lost. The specific details of this tax will be negotiated during the legislative process. Because sports wagering is a new industry, the expected revenue is undetermined. But we are confident it could exceed expectations. For example, in 2019, sports wagering in New Jersey generated more than $335 million in revenue. In Indiana, after only four months they are on track to generate $130 million in revenue.

The captured revenue and this new industry will undoubtedly be good for our economy. It will create revenue for Georgia, and keep it here, while creating jobs. In addition, 95% of the taxes generated will go to the HOPE Scholarship, which includes rural technology schools. The remaining 5% will go to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. The revenue for the HOPE Scholarship will further help our young people get college educations.

Professional sports teams will not receive a direct share of any wagering profits or tax revenue. Wagering will, however, greatly enhance our engagement with fans. Today, people, especially those under 40, rely on the mobile phone for entertainment and communication. We need to compete with the online opportunities available to our fans or they will go elsewhere.

SB 403 will require operators to use official league data to settle in-game wagers and give leagues and teams a voice with regulators to prohibit bets that pose outsized integrity risks. It will require the sharing of data with leagues for integrity monitoring purposes, and require operators to use reasonable efforts to prohibit league and team insiders from betting on their sports.

As NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in 2014, “Sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated.”

Legalizing mobile sports wagering is good for consumers, good for our fans, and good for Georgia.

Steve Koonin is president and CEO, Atlanta Hawks. Derek Schiller is president and CEO, Atlanta Braves. Rich McKay is president and CEO, Atlanta Falcons. Darren Eales is president and CEO, Atlanta United.

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