An attempt to get Georgia sports betting on the books cleared its first legislative hurdle Thursday.
Georgia House Bill 380, which would authorize up to 16 licenses to mobile sports betting operators, was introduced in the chamber’s Higher Education committee.
Rep. Marcus Wiedower (R-Watkinsville) spent much of the morning laying out the merits of the legislation, while also fielding questions and pointed criticism from some of the committee’s members.
Questions over everything from the legislation’s 15% sports wagering tax rate to the number of licenses allocated were peppered at Wiedower, who spoke at length about why he and the five other co-sponsors included what they did in HB380.
He also explained why the latest iteration of the legislation removed retail sports betting, focusing the state’s sports betting efforts on online-only wagering.
"I do believe that Georgia is very ripe for sports betting,” Wiedower said. “I do think that you’re going to see operations pop up that may just want to operate in Georgia, and I wanted to do my best to protect the integrity of operators in Georgia."
Senate Bill 57, which also would legalize mobile sports betting in the state, was heard by the Committee on Economic Development and Tourism earlier this week.
What’s Included (And Not Included) in HB380
HB380 is focused squarely on allowing professional sports venues to partner with mobile betting operators on wagering.
The number of licensees could be changed down the road, Wiedower said, though he envisions the $100,000 application and $1 million annual licensing fees staying where they are.
As for the number of licenses allocated to various sports teams, such as the Atlanta Braves, Falcons and Hawks, Wiedower said sponsors studied a wide range of states to determine the right number for the market.
“That allows for enough of a competitive market to put the people in place, but not opening it up to kind of some more fly by night operators,” Wiedower told his colleagues.
The first-term legislator said sponsors envision the Atlanta area sports teams being joined by various professional sports venues, such as Augusta National and Atlanta Motor Speedway, in partnering with mobile sports betting operators.
Though the latter two would not be able to have a retail betting space inside their facilities, Wiedower still sees the benefit in them being able to partner with operators on a mobile-only license, given the volume of wagers such companies take in in other states.
Wiedower expressed confidence Georgia sports betting could be a top-tier market, even without retail wagering, estimating first-year betting tax revenues ranging from $50-90 million.
For reference, Tennessee is an online-only wagering market that raked in more than $205 million in sports betting revenue and $35,543,918 in taxes during its first calendar year of operation.
Wiedower said sponsors of HB380 aren’t set on keeping the bill’s tax rate at 15%, but they want to ensure the legislation adequately funds the state’s education system, which is the main beneficiary of wagering funds.
"The higher we take that tax bracket or that taxable amount, we run the risk of pushing people to other states,” Wiedower said.
Where HB380 Goes From Here
The Higher Education committee is slated to reconvene to pick up on the legislation at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Rep. Chuck Martin, who serves as the committee’s chairperson, allowed many of the people scheduled to speak at Thursday’s meeting to push their testimony to next week in order to wrap up the hearing on time.
With 12 questions coming from committee members of both parties and public comments from David Miller of the PGA Tour (in favor of HB380) and Mike Griffin of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board (in opposition), there appears to be no shortage of viewpoints on the subject.
"We support HB 380 in the regulation of sports betting in the state,” Miller told the crowd. “We think this bill is as strong as any in the country ... and it's supported by essentially all the leading betting operators and sports leagues in the U.S."
Wiedower tried to placate some of those concerns in his final comments during the day’s hearing, telling members of the legislature and community they can come to him with any questions or concerns they have about legalizing sports betting in Georgia.
“My door’s open. I want this out there and want it thoroughly vetted by everyone involved,” he said. “This is bipartisan, and I welcome any commentary and I appreciate the time today and the questions.”