Effort would allow vote on gambling, enable sports betting in Georgia

Attempts to expand legalized gambling in Georgia reemerged Monday as a House panel approved legislation that would ask voters to allow “sports betting and other forms of betting and gambling.”

The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee also passed a bill that would regulate how sports betting would be conducted in the state.

The panel amended similar legislation approved by the Senate last year that got held up. That constitutional amendment that passed the Senate last year would have only allowed sports betting.

Committee Chairman Ron Stephens, a Savannah Republican who is sponsoring the legislation in the House, said the industry has estimated that Georgians illegally spend $1.5 billion on sports betting annually. Currently, companies have worked around offering sports betting in states where it’s not legal by hosting servers offshore.

“All you are doing today ... is you are taxing and regulating — and that’s all,” Stephens said. “And that’s because they’re already doing sports betting.”

The House panel on Monday approved the new Senate Resolution 135, which would ask voters whether Georgia should allow “sports betting and other forms of betting and gambling” in the state. The resolution to amend the state’s constitution will need support from two-thirds of each chamber to become law.

If voters approve the referendum, it could open the door to other types of gambling legislation, such as casinos or horse racing — measures that have failed to garner enough support for the past several years. If counties wanted to allow gambling such as a casino or horse track in their area, the local voters would then also have to approve it.

That broadened allowance of all gaming could make the measure’s passage in the Senate a tall order. The Senate earlier this year failed to advance legislation allowing horse racing in the state.

The committee also approved Senate Bill 142, which would now create a Georgia Sports Betting Commission to manage an online sports wagering system if the constitutional amendment passes.

Under the bill, large companies interested in operating online sports betting in Georgia would have to pay a $100,000 application fee and an annual license fee of $1 million. The state would approve up to 18 companies that would pay a 20% income tax to the state. Nine of those companies would be affiliated with Georgia sports franchises.

Those figures are a significant jump from the proposal that passed the Senate last year.

Revenue raised from sports betting would go to HOPE college scholarships and pre-k education.

A 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling opened an opportunity for states to legalize sports betting. More than 30 states either have or are in the process of establishing legal sports betting.

The legalization of sports betting is backed by the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance, a coalition of four professional franchises — the Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta United.

And powerful Republicans, including House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, have signaled some support for sports betting legislation.

The measure will next go to the House for its consideration.

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