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Georgia Voters to Decide on Sports Betting in November

Georgia is one step closer to legalizing sports betting after the state Senate approved a constitutional amendment on Tuesday that would let voters have the final say in November. The amendment, which passed with a 41-12 vote, would create a gaming commission to regulate the sports betting industry and allocate the tax revenue to education and other purposes.

Sports Betting Could Generate Over $100 Million in Tax Revenue

According to the sponsor of the amendment, Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, sports betting could generate more than $100 million in annual tax revenue for the state, based on the estimates from other states that have legalized it. Cowsert said that 80% of the tax revenue would go to the lottery’s education fund, with the first priority being pre-K programs and the leftover money going to HOPE scholarships. The other 20% of the revenue would be split between helping people with gambling problems and promoting major sporting events in Georgia.

Cowsert said that the amendment would give voters the opportunity to decide on a major policy shift in the state, rather than the Legislature unilaterally legalizing sports betting under the lottery. He said that when Georgia voters authorized the lottery in 1992, they did not intend to approve sports betting as well.

“I think it’s the politically appropriate thing to do when we make this type of major policy shift in our state,” Cowsert said. “This is to give voters the opportunity to speak on the issue.”

Sports Betting Framework Already Passed by the Senate

The Senate has already passed a bill that would establish the framework for how sports betting would operate in Georgia, if the amendment is approved by the voters. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Sandy Springs, would allow the Georgia Lottery to award 16 licenses to sports betting operators, including seven to the major professional sports franchises in Atlanta, NASCAR, the PGA, and Augusta National. The bill would also set a 16% tax rate on the gross revenue of the operators and a $10,000 application fee and a $100,000 annual renewal fee for the licenses.

Georgia Voters to Decide on Sports Betting in November

Dixon said that his bill would create a competitive and transparent market for sports betting in Georgia, while also protecting the integrity of the games and the consumers. He said that sports betting is already happening in Georgia illegally, and that his bill would bring it out of the shadows and generate revenue for the state.

“Sports betting is not a new concept. It’s been around for a long time,” Dixon said. “What we’re doing is we’re taking something that’s currently happening in the black market and we’re bringing it into a regulated market.”

Sports Betting Faces Opposition from Some Lawmakers and Groups

Not everyone is in favor of legalizing sports betting in Georgia, however. Some lawmakers and groups have voiced their opposition to the amendment and the bill, citing moral and legal concerns. Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone, said that sports betting would be a harmful form of gambling that would prey on the young and the poor, and that it would violate the state constitution, which prohibits gambling except for the lottery.

Harbin said that the amendment and the bill would open the door for more gambling expansion in the future, such as casinos and horse racing, and that the tax revenue from sports betting would not be worth the social costs.

“It’s a mistake to send sports gambling to the ballot,” Harbin said. “It’s a ruinously addictive form of gambling.”

Some groups, such as the Georgia Baptist Mission Board and the Faith and Freedom Coalition of Georgia, have also expressed their opposition to sports betting, arguing that it would harm families and communities, and that it would conflict with the values of many Georgians.

Sports Betting Has Support from Sports Fans and Industry Leaders

On the other hand, sports betting has support from many sports fans and industry leaders, who see it as a way to enhance the fan experience and boost the economy. The five major professional sports teams in Atlanta, the Braves, Falcons, Hawks, United, and Dream, have formed an alliance to support the legalization of sports betting in Georgia, saying that it would increase fan engagement and generate new revenue streams for the teams and the state.

The alliance, called the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance, has also advocated for the inclusion of official league data and integrity fees in the sports betting legislation, to ensure the accuracy and fairness of the bets and to compensate the leagues for their role in creating the product.

Other supporters of sports betting include the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who have argued that sports betting would create jobs, attract tourism, and stimulate the economy, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sports Betting Awaits Approval from the House and the Voters

The constitutional amendment and the bill now await approval from the state House, where they face an uncertain fate. The House has its own version of the sports betting bill, which does not require a constitutional amendment, but it has faced resistance from some lawmakers and groups. The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, would also allow the Georgia Lottery to regulate sports betting, but it would set a lower tax rate of 14% and a higher application fee of $50,000 and a renewal fee of $900,000 for the licenses.

If the House passes the Senate’s amendment and bill, or if the two chambers agree on a compromise version, then the amendment would go to the ballot in November, where it would need a simple majority of the voters to pass. If the amendment passes, then sports betting would become legal in Georgia, and the gaming commission would begin issuing licenses and setting rules for the industry.


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