Are Georgia Lawmakers Warming Up to Legal Sports Betting?

Half the states in the US are hot on legal sports betting. New Jersey has emerged as the biggest market in the nation among the states offering legal sports betting at the present moment. States such as Virginia, Louisiana, and Maryland are busy making plans to launch legal sportsbooks, such as FanDuel, BetMGM, William Hill, etc, within their borders.

The other half of the states are scattered across a wide spectrum when it comes to the matter. Some are slowly moving forward and others have yet to approach the issue. Using hot and cold as this spectrum’s extremes, you could probably add Georgia sports betting to the “getting warmer” grouping.

Efforts to push gambling expansion bills in the past have come up short. This includes the ability to wager on sports.

Heading into the 2021 legislative agenda, Georgia Rep. Ron Stephens representing Savannah has taken up the cause. He has found an additional five co-sponsors to help move legislation forward as it pertains to a legal sports betting platform in the state.

The group has formally submitted HB 86 for further consideration. This bill would legalize sports betting under the guidance of the Georgia Lottery as the official regulatory body.

Rep. Stephens is the chairman of the House Economic Development & Tourism Committee. In reference to his bill, he has been quoted as saying:

“It’s the easiest one to pass. It clearly does not require a constitutional amendment. It’s just a matter of us giving the Georgia Lottery Commission direction and authority they already have.”

By running legal sports betting through the Georgia Lottery, HB 86 has been designed to bypass the need for a complicated approval process. Amending the state constitution could involve a state-wide voter referendum to further bog down the initiative.

Tax revenue from legal sports betting would be funneled toward education to support the HOPE Scholarship fund as well as pre-K programs.

The proposed legislation would require a $50,000 licensing fee. As an additional way to raise revenue, there would be a hefty annual licensing fee of $900,000. If the annual fee goes through, Georgia could become an unattractive market to enter for many sportsbook operators.

Legislators maintain that the state’s potential for sports betting would alleviate any issues the large annual fee might create.

Another concern for operators would be the proposed 16 percent tax rate on sports betting revenue. This is also much higher than average. Once again, lawmakers are looking to maximize the amount of money raised for Georgia’s educational system.

It appears that the specifics of HB 86 closely resemble the Tennessee sports betting model. Launched in November of last year, wagers are placed through the use of mobile sports betting apps. There are no retail sportsbooks in the Volunteer State.

Proponents of legal sports betting in Georgia were quick to note that Tennessee’s total handle for December reached $131.4 million in just its second month of operation.

At the top of the list was New Jersey with close to $1 billion in sports wagers during the final month of the year. The Garden State topped $6 billion for the year with 92 percent of that handle wagered online.

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