Sports Betting on the Horizon in Georgia

Under a proposed constitutional amendment moving in the state House, Georgia voters might determine in November whether they want to enable sports and horse racing betting, as well as casino gambling. This is big news for a state that has been working to get this passed.

On Monday of this week, the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee approved an updated version of Senate Resolution 135, as well as Senate Bill 142, all of which would authorize sports betting in collegiate and professional sports.

What is Next for the Bill?

In the last days of the session, the endeavor still has a long way to go. A two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate is required for the constitutional change to become law.

A proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed just horse racing was defeated by the Senate earlier this year. The proposal does, however, have the support of Atlanta’s major sports teams, who want to allow betting on their games in order to increase fan involvement.

People are already making bets abroad, said to Rep. Ron Stephens, a Savannah Republican and longstanding proponent of increasing gambling. Stephens believes Georgia should join the approximately 30 states that have authorized sports betting. Stephens thinks that will having the lottery already legal in Georgia it would help to create a perfect bridge to sports betting.

Opponents argue that state-sponsored gambling promotes addiction and other social ills and that they don’t want to expand beyond Georgia’s lottery, which was established by voters in 1992 and received $5.7 billion in wagers last year. LaGrange Republican Rep. Randy Nix described gambling as “one of the most addicting things that individuals can do.”

“The state of Georgia does not want to put its stamp of approval on this,” Nix added. “We don’t need this in the most business-friendly state in the country. This is what desperate people do, and this state is doing very well.”

Legislators would have to return later to enact laws allowing casinos and horse racing, but only in areas where voters have approved.

What Would the Plan Look Like?

The House plan would tax sports betting winnings at a rate of 20%, which is twice the amount recommended by the Senate. Bettors would have to be 21 years old, and high school games would be prohibited.

The bill would allow the Georgia Lottery Corporation to grant up to nine licenses to organizations wishing to provide online sports betting in the state.

Licenses would also be available to owners of professional sports teams, motor racing tracks, Augusta National Golf Club, and professional golfing organizations. Stores might also offer sports betting machines, similar to the lottery-regulated coin-operated entertainment machines.

Half of the money raised from sports betting would go toward HOPE college scholarships and state prekindergarten and child care subsidies. The other half would be used to provide additional financial help for persons who earn less than the state median income of almost $59,000. In addition, each operator would be required to pay a $100,000 annual licensing fee.

Half of any earnings from casinos and horse racing betting would go to healthcare initiatives, according to the constitutional proposal. The rest would go to economic development in economically depressed areas of the state, 15% to prekindergarten subsidies, and 15% to college tuition for persons earning less than the median income.

Some sports betting license costs would be sent to a fund to attract sports events, while some casino and horse race betting licensing fees would be directed to a fund to support arts facilities, according to the amendment.

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