Wanna bet? Online sports betting becomes political issue in Georgia 2022 midterms
Republicans and Democrats seem to support it but can’t agree how to use the seemingly huge revenues to come
ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Quietly defeated in the last legislative session, the issue of legal, online sports betting in Georgia is certain to come before lawmakers next year.
This time, supporters are hoping the massive amounts of revenue sure to be generated from legalized sports betting will make the measure impossible to reject.
More than $50 billion was wagered on sports last year, all legally, according to data compiled by the American Gaming Association. Sportsbooks are projected to spend $2 billion on advertising this year, partnering with the NFL and other major sports leagues to expand business. Right now the American Gaming Association says sports betting is legal in 31 states and Washington DC.
“We’ve reached a point in the U.S. where a majority of states have either legalized or have already implemented some form of legal sports betting,” said Geoff Zochodne, a sports betting journalist for Covers, a website providing statistics and advice to sports bettors. “That includes states such as Tennessee, which has an all online form of sports betting; all the sports books are mobile or on another internet connected device.
“That includes as Virginia, which had an online only model but is now beginning diversifying to brick-and-mortar gaming. So it really has been a state by state process where each one has kind of settled on the model that legislators feel is right for them.”
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams has made legalized sports betting a central part of her campaign platform. Abrams, who hopes to unseat Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in November, wants to legalize not only online sports betting, but also casino gambling, and expand the HOPE Scholarship to include students with a “C” average or higher.
Abrams backs a constitutional amendment to use those revenues to also give Georgians free access to technical college.
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Kemp’s office said the governor has taken no position on sports and would work alongside legislative leadership to determine the best path forward.
“Where you have states that allow both online and retail, in-person sports betting, online sports betting gets more attention,” Zochodne said. “It’s a lot easier to place a bet from the comfort of your home without having to drive to a facility. In most states with those two options, 80% to 90% of wagering happens through online sports books.”
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens is at least open to supporting online sports betting.
“It’s something that I’m looking at as it progresses and goes through the state legislature,” Dickens said. “I’ll be sober and openminded about it. I understand we do have great operators in this city such as FanDuel and others, that are doing it online and they provide jobs in our community. If there is more sports betting that can happen in our city in an organized fashion, we also need the social safety nets surrounding it.”
Introduced in the last legislative session was Senate Resolution 135, which would created a ballot question to allowing voters to remove the restrictions on legalized gambling from the state constitution; it was sponsored by state Sens. Jeff Mullis (R-Rock Spring) and Bill Cowsert (R-Athens).
Senate Bill 142 would have asked voters to decide whether to allow online sports betting in the state, but not other types of gambling like casinos and horse racing tracks. But neither effort ever made it to the House of Representatives’ floor for debate.
“It’s just a shame that we’ve got to wait two more years,” said state Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), a supporter of online sports betting, who said legislative leaders were responsible for snuffing out his most recent push to legalize sports betting earlier this year.
“If this thing had gotten to the House, it would have passed, and it would have passed bipartisan,” Stephens said.
The hang-up happened in the House Rules Committee, where Stephens said representatives of Georgia’s wealthiest districts didn’t like using the proposed tax revenue to help fund HOPE scholarships and Pre-K on a needs-basis, rather than a merit basis.
“It’s unfortunate we didn’t get the vote, and it’s even more unfortunate that people of Georgia didn’t get an opportunity to vote on it,” he said.
Still the likeliest path forward appears to be a constitutional amendment, meaning the earliest sports betting could be put to a vote by the people of Georgia is November 2024.
But even as sports betting has stalled in Georgia, sportsbook giant FanDuel has already quietly moved into Midtown’s hugely popular Ponce City Market, with a tech hub on the third floor and a promise of 900 employees in five years, all in state where sports better isn’t even legal.
“Just look at the landscape of what’s already happened,” Zochodne said. “We’ve seen the developments of what happened in the legislature, and it seems like this is going to be a topic that comes up again. Regardless of what happens in the governor’s race, this is going to be an issue that’s going to be revisited by the legislature next year.”
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