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Georgia Senate panel advances bill to legalize online sports betting

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Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder
January 30, 2024

A bill aimed at legalizing sports betting in Georgia was approved 8-2 by a state Senate committee on Tuesday.

The Senate Committee on Economic Development and Tourism voted Tuesday in support of Senate Bill 386, which would legalize sports gambling, and has been endorsed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, Atlanta’s major professional sports franchises and the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

The proposed legislation bypasses a statewide referendum process for determining the fate of legalized sports betting in Georgia. Some opponents of the bill express doubts as to whether state lawmakers can circumvent the requirement that a constitutional amendment be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature and by Georgia voters in November in order to expand legalized gambling in the state.

Former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton wrote an opinion as a partner with the Troutman Pepper law firm last year that legalizing sports betting in Georgia does not require a statewide ballot referendum if it is incorporated into the state’s lottery system

Under the version of the bill that advanced on Tuesday, 20% of revenue would go toward scholarships for higher education and pre-K funded by the Georgia Lottery. The state would charge a $1 million annual fee to 16 license holders.

The licenses would be awarded to professional sports franchises Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Dream and Atlanta United as well as the Augusta National, NASCAR’s Atlanta Motor Speedway and the Georgia Lottery. The Georgia Lottery would award the remaining licenses to companies.

Nick Fernandez, director of government affairs at the Metro Atlanta Chamber, views gambling as a positive for economic development and education.

“There are a lot of pieces of legislation out there this year that are bolstering pre-K and are looking at additional ways that they can support early childhood education,” Fernandez said.

Stuart Wilkinson, a representative of daily sports fantasy company PrizePicks, suggested adding language to the bill for fantasy sports that he estimated could generate an additional $35 million in revenue.

Mack Parnell, executive director of the Georgia Faith and Freedom Coalition, said on Tuesday that problem gambling has devastating consequences.

Mike Griffin, public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, compared legalized sports gambling to legalized fraud. Griffin said that the bettors must lose in order for the sports gambling industry to thrive.

“This is not about you and your friends sitting around playing poker one night while drinking Coca-Colas and eating peanuts,” he said. “This is state sponsored predatory gambling.”

Griffin said he believes that Georgians did not have sports betting in mind when they voted to legalize lottery games in 1993.

“There’s a fire blazing in the state of Georgia with sports betting,” he said. “If you legalize it based on data I’ve seen from Europe, who’ve had sports betting longer than anybody, it would be like putting gasoline on a fire instead of water.”

The push for legal sports gambling gained momentum in 2020 when four Atlanta professional sports franchises formed an alliance advocating for sports betting in Georgia. Since May 2018, more than 30 states have legalized sports betting after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a 1992 federal law banning commercial sports betting in most states.

In the last couple of years, Georgia’s legislative sessions have ended with failed attempts to legalize sports betting, horse racing, and casinos in combination or as standalone propositions as legislators were divided on everything from the ills of gambling addiction, to how revenue would be distributed, and what forms of gambling to permit.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Georgia Recorder under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.