Lawmakers in Georgia to consider amendments to sports betting bills

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The Georgia House is continuing to discuss a pair of online sports betting measures.

Members of the Georgia House Higher Education Committee discussed Senate Bill 386 on Monday, which is a measure that aims to regulate online sports betting in the Peach State. The bill has a companion measure, Senate Resolution 579, which proposes a constitutional amendment that allows Georgia residents to vote on the fate of wagering. SB 579 passed in the Georgia Senate last month and is now a topic of discussion in the House.

“I think when you have this major of a policy shift, the public ought to be allowed to buy in to vote on it,” Sen. Bill Cowsert told committee members on Monday.

SR 579 and SB 386 aim to support public education with 80% of tax revenue from sports betting allocated toward supporting pre-K and the HOPE Scholarship program, which provides tuition assistance to students at eligible colleges and universities. The measure calls for 15% of proceeds to go into a responsible gambling fund and another 5% to be deposited into a sports promotion fund. The fund is aimed at hosting major sporting events in Georgia, including the Olympics and NBA All-Star Game.

The fund will support a sports-crazed state at the request of Atlanta sports teams.

“All the sports teams want it,” continued Cowsert. “A whole bunch of other states are doing this because it is so popular in American culture, particularly in the South. We’ve been betting on college football and pro football in our state and our region for generations.”

If signed into law, SB 386 and SR 579 authorize up to 16 wagering licenses in Georgia with nine of those licenses being tied to a partnership with a professional sports team or entity.

Operators are required to pay an initial $100,000 application fee and if approved for a license another $1 million must be paid annually to maintain Georgia market access. Under SB 386 and SR 579, operators are taxed at a 20% rate on sports betting revenue.

Changes loom in Georgia

House members voiced a willingness to amend SB 386 and SR 579 to move the measures forward while providing more resources for public education in Georgia, including the potential use of gaming proceeds to fund free school breakfast and lunch for students. The measures could also provide funding and resources to support healthcare in rural areas.

SB 386 and SR 579 aim to benefit education but the bills have also received backlash.

“We don’t need to have gambling; we have a $16 billion surplus right now,” said Moms Against Gambling founder Jeanne Seaver during Monday’s discussion. “We need to protect our children and we need to protect the addiction that this is going to lead to.”

Problem gaming has emerged at the forefront of discussions regarding SB 386 and SR 579 and as the measures move forward additional language to protect residents may be added.

Until then, lawmakers will continue to discuss the bills until a House vote is taken. Approval faces an uphill battle as a related measure passed in the Senate last year but would later dissolve in the House.