Most decisions come down to the almighty dollar. With states across the country facing budget crises due to COVID-19 and irresponsible spending in the past exacerbated by coronavirus, many jurisdictions are entertaining sports betting legislation. Some places are moving faster than others, under the guise of COVID, while others are either doing their due diligence or placating senators and representatives that have been yelling about legal betting for a long period of time.
In Georgia, it is probably a little bit of both, but as exploratory committees look at the numbers and discussions take place in the legislature, more and more states seem to be looking at sports betting as a viable source of cash to refill the coffers or to refrain from cutting other programs.
Here is a sign of how desperate Georgia is for an influx of dollars. The potential legalization of sports betting is part of House Bill 903. HB 903 actually began as legislation regarding traffic tickets, but was amended to include what is being called the Georgia Lottery Mobile Sports Wagering and Integrity Act. The original purpose of the bill was to allow the state to issue a traffic citation to the owner of a motor vehicle instead of the operator of a motor vehicle in certain instances. Now, it has become Georgia’s most recent attempt at a bill to legalize sports betting.
Money from taxes on sports betting revenue would go to fund Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship program and also pre-K education. The 20% tax rate is a little on the high side compared to some states, like Colorado, but much lower than other states, like Pennsylvania.
Under the proposed legislation, the Georgia Lottery Corporation would be the governing body in the state. It remains to be seen how many licenses would be available, but Georgia does not have any land-based casinos. It would stand to reason that the state would adopt a similar framework to what Tennessee is preparing to launch. Bettors would be allowed to register remotely and play from anywhere in the state on mobile devices or computers.
Perhaps approved Georgia Lottery retailers would get betting kiosks or something similar, but it looks as though Georgia would be a very player-friendly state that would have the most convenient of betting options. The ability to bet on a smartphone or computer from anywhere in the state should be the way that all states operate, but not all lawmakers seem to agree.
In any event, the initial non-refundable application fee for a license would be $50,000 under the bill and the annual license cost would be $900,000. That is a hefty chunk of change to say the least and could potentially limit the number of operators that dabble in the Peach State. The big ones like DraftKings and FanDuel would treat that like pocket change and others would certainly follow suit and bite the bullet.
From a cost-benefit analysis standpoint, Georgia would be a very attractive state. The southeast is a sports-crazed region in a lot of ways and the city supports MLB, NBA, NFL, MLS, and obviously has plenty of college football and college basketball fans. Atlanta proper is a top-40 US city in population and the Atlanta Metro area is the ninth-largest in the country with over six million people. That would be a lot of gaming dollars up for grabs for any of the operators that go live in the state.
Previous bills have all failed. Special circumstances may make this one go differently with the state’s financial woes as a result of COVID. Being able to use gambling money to put towards education would allow for the allocation of existing funds into other programs. Senator Burt Jones pointed to the amount of illegal betting done in Georgia. Most states are coming around to the fact that it happens and that they should legalize, regulate, and tax it. That seems to be a rallying cry from proponents of these changes to the laws on the books.
Furthermore, now that the sports leagues have bought in, opposition to legalized sports betting has dwindled. Groups that point out the social and societal ills of gambling are going to be the only dissenting voices in a lot of states and those groups, for better or worse, often don’t carry enough weight to stop such a windfall of cash.
The leagues were much more powerful in a lobbying sense when they were against sports betting. With a complete 180 since PASPA was overturned in 2018 by the Supreme Court, the leagues are actually lobbying in favor of sports betting.
In Georgia, specifically, the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance, which is a coalition of the Hawks, Braves, Falcons, and United, has given its blessing as a way of engaging more with fans. One of the most interesting quotes came from Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, who said that they believe 40 states will have legalized sports betting by 2024.
Depending on the path chosen by lawmakers, Georgia could have betting by 2021. The path of least resistance maybe the next option, which would be in contrast to the past attempts, which would have required an amendment to the state’s constitution. That requires two-thirds of the Senate, House, and a majority of the general public. A different route could move quicker and require less support.
Georgia could prove to be a gateway for a lot of additional states, like South Carolina, Florida, and Alabama. North Carolina recenty approved betting, but only in-person at the two Harrah’s properties in the mountains. Mississippi only offers retail betting, with some mobile capabilities on-site. Louisiana is also moving forward and will have mobile betting if legislation passes.
We’ll see how Georgia continues to progress and see if operators are able to secure a very lucrative Atlanta Metro area in the near future.