Gambling expansion is moving forward in the state of Georgia. Legislation that would allow online sports betting to take place has been approved by a state House panel this week. The goal is to start with sports betting as it could move forward without an amendment to the state constitution. If enough support can be garnered, then efforts to pass casino gaming could possibly move forward as well.
House Bill 86
The approved measure would allow the Georgia Lottery to oversee the new online system. Proceeds from the new industry would be used to help the HOPE college scholarship fund. The bill was approved by the House Tourism and Economic Development Committee by a vote of 20-6.
The positive vote was expected due to the committee being chaired by Representative Ron Stephens, the sponsor of the measure. According to the Rep, the bill is the best way to ensure the HOPE fund has enough money to help all kids in the state.
The change should add around $40 million in revenues to the current fund. This would help to bring the HOPE scholarship fund up to the price point where it needs to be to have enough funding for everyone.
Back in 1992, the Georgia Lottery was set up and operators were supposed to provide 35% of their proceeds to the fun. However, the games often only provided around 25% to the program. The state does have reserves, but additional money would mean the reserves do not have to be touched.
With the new legislation, the sports betting license holders would pay 14% of their revenues to the HOPE fund. Players who take part in wagering would have to be 21 years of age or older. Players could only wager on professional sports as college games are banned.
Stephens is not just focused on sports betting for Georgia. He also wants to see casinos added to the state. The Representative filed legislation for casino gaming as well. However, this process would be a bit more difficult. For starters, a referendum must be added to the ballot to ask Georgia voters to vote yes or no on the topic.
Lawmakers in Georgia have tried several times to see legal gambling expanded via an amendment to the constitution. So far, legislation has failed to pass within Legislature to make it to the ballot. Stephens feels like this is the year when everything could come together.
If the sports betting bill can gain traction, it could build enough momentum to help casino legislation move forward too. The sports betting legislation has support from several sectors, including the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance. This coalition consists of the Atlanta Braves, Falcons, Hawks, and United teams.
Lawmakers are also on-board including House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan. With support behind the measure, it has more of a chance to become law.
Of course, there are those who are opposed or who have concerns, including lawmakers. During the meeting this week, some lawmakers showed concern over the possibility of sports betting including addiction. Some would like to see stronger safeguards in place to ensure that anyone who is vulnerable is protected.