Georgia Senate approves legislation that would legalize sports betting

Georgia State Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, gives a thumbs-up on the Senate floor during the Georgia Legislatures Crossover day, Thursday, March 12, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Georgia State Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, gives a thumbs-up on the Senate floor during the Georgia Legislatures Crossover day, Thursday, March 12, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

The Georgia Senate on Friday approved legislation that could legalize online sports betting in the state.

Senators approved Senate Resolution 135, which would ask voters if Georgia should allow online sports wagering in the state. The resolution to amend the state’s Constitution, which needed support from two thirds of the chamber’s 56 members, passed 41-10.

Senators also voted 34-17 to approve Senate Bill 142, which regulates how sports betting would be conducted in the state.

“The constitutional amendment is simply allowing the very people that you represent — the ones that vote for or, or maybe don’t vote for you — you’re allowing them to decide no or yes on sports betting,” said Senate Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis, a Chickamauga Republican and sponsor of the legislation.

Companies interested in operating online sports betting in Georgia would have to pay a $10,000 application fee and an annual license fee of $100,000. The state would approve at least six companies that would pay a 16% income tax to the state.

Revenue raised from sports betting would go to needs-based scholarships, rural broadband and rural health care.

Supporters have said sports betting could bring anywhere from $30 million to $100 million in revenue to the state. Critics have such numbers are exaggerated.

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Elena Parent of Atlanta successfully amended the bill to require that at least half of the money raised go to needs-based scholarships.

Those placing wagers would have to be 21 years old and in Georgia. Bets could be placed on professional sports and sporting events that don’t involve Georgia teams.

Mullis stressed that whatever passed the Senate would likely not be the final product, since the House is expected to consider similar legislation, House Bill 86, next week.

“I know this process is just beginning,” Mullis said. “It’s going to move down the road and there are going to be many changes.”

For years, gambling supporters have pushed the Legislature to expand the industry to allow casinos or horse racing. But a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court ruling opened an opportunity for states to legalize sports betting. About 20 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.

SR 135 and SB 142 now go to the House for its consideration.

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