Sports Betting Bill Sails Through Georgia House Committee

A bill to allow online sports betting in Georgia won overwhelming support this week in a state House committee. The measure now goes to the full House for consideration.

Ron Stephens
Ron Stephens
Georgia state Rep. Ron Stephens, left, confers with colleagues following a House committee vote. Stephens has filed a bill to allow sports betting in Georgia. (Image: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

House Bill 86 by Rep. Ron Stephens (R) was approved on a 20-6 vote Tuesday in the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee. Stephens is the committee chairman.

The bill would require the Georgia Lottery Corp. to license at least six sports wagering companies in the state. The companies’ proceeds would be taxed at 14 percent, down from the 16 percent rate Stephens first proposed. The companies would pay an annual licensing fee of $900,000.

Even at a 10 percent rate, the tax on sports betting would bring in $42 million a year, Stephens said. The money would go to the HOPE college scholarships fund. It also would help families pay for pre-kindergarten classes and child care, according to the Associated Press.

Under the bill, only people 21 and older would be allowed to bet. It would not allow bets on college or high school sports.

State Sen. Jeff Mullis (R) is expected to introduce a bill in the upper chamber that would allow betting on college sports, Stephens said. This Senate bill, which has not been filed, would impose a 10 percent tax on winnings. Stephens said 10 percent is too low, according to the Associated Press.

Opponents Cite Downsides

Stephens has said the online sports betting bill would not require a constitutional amendment. Other efforts to expand gambling in Georgia require a constitutional amendment. Legislative proposals to allow casinos and horse tracks have been introduced this year at the Capitol in Atlanta.

Constitutional amendments are difficult to pull off. They require a two-thirds vote of both legislative chambers and a majority vote in a public election. A bill is less challenging. It requires a majority vote in the both chambers before going to the governor.

However, any gambling measure in Georgia faces opposition from those who are concerned it leads to higher crime rates and shatters families that suffer economic losses.

Mike Griffin of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board said electronic sports betting encourages underage wagering. 

All this is going to do is prime children to get ready to gamble one day,” Griffin told the Associated Press.

Stephens said Georgians spend billions of dollars each year betting illegally. These bets, some placed on offshore websites, are not taxed in Georgia.

We can legitimize it, if you will, through the lottery,” Stephens said. If youre going to do it offshore, why dont we collect the revenue here in Georgia?”

Regional Expansion

Tennessee is Georgia’s only neighboring state that allows online sports betting. Tennessee does not have commercial casinos.

States across the Southern region, including Texas and Mississippi, are considering legalizing mobile sports betting. Mississippi allows sports betting in person at sportsbooks in casinos. The state is home to 26 casinos. Texas has yet to legalize commercial casinos.

In Louisiana, voters in November approved sports betting in a majority of the state’s parishes. When lawmakers next meet in April, they will have to decide whether to allow mobile sports wagering or restrict sports betting to in-person wagers inside casinos. Louisiana has 13 riverboat casinos, a land-based casino in New Orleans, and four racinos.

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