A Georgia sports betting bill backed by leaders from both parties easily sailed out of a Senate committee hearing Tuesday morning.
By an 8-2 vote and without discussion, the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Tourism passed an amended version of Senate Bill 386, which Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Buford, filed last Wednesday. The key change in the amended bill was an increase in the state tax rate from 15% to 20%.
SB 386 now heads to the Rules Committee, and a vote on the measure could happen on the Senate floor as early as Thursday.
If it were to become law, and there are still several steps to complete before it reaches that point, the Georgia Lottery Corporation would be responsible for regulating sports betting. Up to 16 licenses would be available, with the state’s major professional teams, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Augusta National Golf Course, the PGA Tour and the state lottery each receiving a license they can delegate to a partner. The lottery would then be able to award seven licenses to standalone operators.
“We believe the license structure that is included in this bill provides both an opportunity for license holders that want to go through an open application apply for their license that way or those that would prefer to partner with a team,” Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce Director of Government Affairs Nick Fernandez told the committee. “We believe that also was a win for Georgia.”
Interested Georgia sports betting operators would need to pay a $100,000 application fee, and if approved, the annual license would cost $1 million. Fernandez estimated the state would get $100 million in revenue that would be applied to education, including pre-K programs and the state’s HOPE Scholarships for college tuition.
PrizePicks Wants ‘To Perfect’ Fantasy Sports Language
A PrizePicks representative told lawmakers they believe regulating fantasy sports could add up to $35 million to the figure Fernandez gave.
PrizePicks, an Atlanta-based daily fantasy sports operator, has butted heads with sportsbooks in several states. Regulators have raised questions about the single-player pick’ em-style games it offers, which critics say are no different than player prop parlays offered by sportsbooks. Stuart Wilkinson, a lobbyist representing PrizePicks, said the company has met with several lawmakers and hopes “to perfect” verbiage on fantasy sports games.
“We’re hoping to tighten the legislation with that language,” he told the committee. “Also, I think there’s an economic development aspect to this if we can put a regulatory framework in place for daily fantasy sports. We estimated an additional $10 million in fees and $25 million in just revenue.”
Another Georgia Sports Betting Bill In Senate
SB 386 isn’t the only Georgia sports betting bill before the Senate. Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, sponsors Senate Bill 172, which passed the Committee on Regulated Industries and Utilities earlier this month.
Cowsert’s bill calls for the state to license at least six sports betting operators. It also creates a tiered tax system, with sportsbook revenues from straight wagers taxed at 20% and their winnings from parlays, in-game bets, and player props taxed at 25%. Further, Cowsert’s bill would require voters to pass a referendum before sports betting could become legal.
The referendum language is not included in Dixon’s bill. Last year, former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton opined that sports betting could be described as a lottery game, and Peach State voters amended the constitution to create a lottery in 1992.
Mike Griffin, the public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, challenged that opinion in his remarks to the committee.
“There’s no way I believe, and I was around, that the people in the state of Georgia believed that they were legalizing sports betting when they voted for the lottery,” he said.
Dixon’s bill includes 11 cosponsors, including Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Clarksville, who serves as the floor leader for Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, and Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain.
While that likely smooths the road for its ultimate passage in the Senate, House lawmakers must also approve the sports betting bill. There are proponents of legalized sports betting in the chamber, but the full House has not voted on such a proposal.
The Georgia General Assembly is scheduled to meet through March 28.
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