Georgia Senate panel passes another online sports betting bill

This version backed by lieutenant governor, Atlanta Metro Chamber and sports teams

A Georgia Senate panel on Tuesday passed a bill that would legalize online sports betting, trying again to get expansion of the state’s gambling options across the finish line.

Senate Bill 386, which has bipartisan support, would authorize online sports betting under the Georgia Lottery, with taxes or fees raised from sports betting to go to educational programs, such as the HOPE scholarship and prekindergarten classes.

The Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee approved the legislation 8-2.

State Sen. Clint Dixon, a Buford Republican who is sponsoring the bill, said under the proposed legislation, the state could issue up to 16 licenses for online sports betting.

Seven licenses would be available to private online sports betting businesses. Companies interested in operating sports betting in Georgia would have to pay a $100,000 application fee and an annual license fee of $1 million. License holders would pay a 20% income tax to the state on the company’s adjusted gross income. The legislation would also encourage companies with minority owners to apply for licenses.

The remaining licenses could be awarded to professional sports teams in Georgia, the Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Masters and the PGA Tour. The Georgia Lottery could also hold a license.

“By bringing an activity that countless Georgians already participate in — whether online, with friends or with booking agents — under the regulation and direction of the Georgia Lottery Corp., we can generate additional dollars to benefit future generations of Georgians,” Dixon said.

Dixon’s bill has the support of the Atlanta Metro Chamber and several sports teams.

Several variations of sports betting bills have been floated within the Capitol in recent years, and a few have been approved by the Senate. The bills have gone nowhere in the House.

There are two schools of thought on sports betting: whether Georgia’s Constitution allows sports betting as a legalized version of gambling or if the state constitution needs to be amended to allow the practice.

Expanding gambling in Georgia has historically been difficult to do because it has typically been thought to require amending the state constitution — allowed only once two-thirds of each legislative chamber agrees to place it on a ballot and a majority of voters approve the change. An effort to legalize sports betting through a constitutional amendment failed on the Senate floor last year.

Dixon’s bill pushes the idea that sports betting can be considered a lottery game and therefore became legal when Georgians voted to allow gambling in 1992.

Gov. Brian Kemp has said he would work with legislative leaders on a measure to allow sports betting — something he previously opposed. State Sen. Bo Hatchett, a Cornelia Republican who often files legislation on behalf of the governor, is a co-sponsor of SB 386. When Lt. Gov. Burt Jones was a state senator, he sponsored legislation to make sports betting legal.

Backers say Georgians illegally bet nearly $5 billion a year on sports. Georgians can pull up a sports betting website or app on their cellphone and place bets on games — most likely using overseas servers and skirting Georgia’s laws that make the practice illegal. Supporters have also said sports betting could bring anywhere from $30 million to $100 million in revenue to the state each year.

Critics have said such numbers are exaggerated.

Mike Griffin, a lobbyist with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said in addition to the moral issues his organization has with gambling, legalizing betting would be allowing the companies to defraud Georgians.

“Gambling is basically legalized fraud,” he said. “Because gambling is gambling — that means you can’t win and the industry cannot lose. The players have to lose in order for (companies) to win.”

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