New Georgia Bill Seeks to Legalize Online Sports Betting

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Six Georgia lawmakers introduced House Bill 86 last Thursday, seeking to legalize online sports betting in the state. The proposed measure seeks to amend the Official Code of Georgia, with a view to authorizing digital sports betting that would be regulated by the Georgia Lottery Corporation.

The main supporter of the bill is Rep. Ron Stephens, who co-sponsored HB 86 along with five other supporters who want the bill to regulate the lucrative industry for a good cause. The millions of dollars that the Peach State will raise from the industry would go to the educational scholarship program. Now, assuming the bill passes through the House and the Senate, Georgians will be able to place legal wagers on the Falcons, Hawks, Atlanta Braves, and United in the coming months.

Georgia Sports Betting Bill Details

Six lawmakers supported the “Georgia Lottery Mobile Sports Wagering Integrity Act,” seeking at least six licenses for online-only sportsbook operators, allowing remote registration to the bettors. However, the lottery is empowered to license fewer than six applicants in case there are fewer applications submitted to it. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t be an issue with operators vying to claim leadership across the states with regulated sports betting.

The sportsbooks would pay a non-refundable $50,000 application and an annual fee of $900,000. The House Bill 86 levies sports betting revenue at 16% payable each month. The resulting tax revenue will go to the Peach State’s HOPE educational scholarship initiative and pre-school programs.

Though the proposed bill seeks to regulate betting on pro sports, including eSports, it does not extend its scope for allowing bets on college sports. The legal age for digital sports betting would be 21.

Leagues to Get a Piece of the Pie too

The major sports leagues had been lobbying to get a fair share in the US sports betting market, and the Georgia bill is no exception. The presidents of the Atlanta Hawks (NBA), Atlanta Falcons (NFL), Atlanta Braves (MLB), and Atlanta United (MLS) came together in 2019 to form the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance.

Under HB 86, sportsbooks will be required to use official league data to settle in-play bets. In addition, any sports governing body may also enter into commercial agreements with sports betting operators or other entities. A sports governing body shall not be required to get a license or any other approval from the corporation to enter into such commercial agreements. However, it is unclear how sportsbook operators will give the four leagues an integrity fee. In any case, it’s optional.

Previous Failed Attempts

Previous bids to legalize sports betting in Georgia remained unsuccessful due to the conservative background of the state. Stephens, the prime mover of this bill, was also behind last year’s attempt to regulate Georgia sports betting through HR 378. That ambitious proposal asked for the creation of a gaming commission through a referendum and authorization of all gambling the commission could oversee.

That attempt met the same fate as Stephens’ other bid he called his “Hail Mary” for Georgia sports betting late in the last session. Still, the conservative Peach State has the main form of legal gambling currently available through the lottery. In the first half of last year, the lottery’s profits reached $1.24 billion, an all-time high for Georgia.

According to Stephens, the new measure would not require a constitutional amendment as it would operate through state lottery and fund educational programs.

Why Georgia Must Legalize Sports Betting Now?

In 2020, New Jersey generated $332 million through legal sports betting, excluding the December revenue. Therefore, Stephens said legalizing sports betting will help address the Peach State’s budget shortfalls.

Last year’s Georgia sports betting proposal that was approved in the House before being stalled in the Senate, would seek a 20% tax rate and estimated that the industry could bring $60 million in tax revenue for Georgia annually. “Georgia just aims to capture those revenues for what residents are already doing,” Stephens said. If House Bill 86 is signed into law this session, sports wagering could launch in July.

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