The co-owner of BetMGM online sportsbook has made legalizing sports betting in Georgia a priority.
To begin the task, Bill Pascrell, a trustee at Entain Foundation U.S., which co-owns BetMGM along with MGM Resorts, spoke to several Georgia state legislators on Oct. 17. The goal is to create and pass an expanded gaming bill in 2024.
BetMGM is now front and center in efforts to legalize sports betting at a statehouse that has resisted all attempts to do so in the past.
Pascrell acknowledges that legalizing sports betting in GA will be difficult
The General Assembly considered several Georgia sports betting measures in the last session. All were defeated. In fact, every attempt to legalize sports wagering in Georgia over the last six years has ended in failure. The good news is that support continues to grow every year.
Pascrell, who is also a partner at PPAG lobbying firm, admitted to the Georgia Recorder that legalizing sports betting in Georgia is still an uphill climb.
“Georgia, as you can imagine, has politically a lot of issues including the Trump indictment, so there’s a little bit of a distraction at the moment. But I feel pretty positive Georgia is going to move (betting) on next year along with a few other states.”
That statement from someone like Pascrell, who has a deep connection to the sports wagering industry, is a strong indicator that expanded gaming could happen soon in Georgia. But it won’t be easy.
One major obstacle to legalizing sports betting must be overcome
There are undoubtedly bettors in Georgia who place bets on illegal sites. A significant number of them will develop irresponsible gambling habits in the process. Those who are against legalizing sports betting worry about players becoming addicted.
One staunch opponent of expanded gambling is the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. Spokesperson Mike Griffin recently talked about the board’s main concern with legalizing sports betting.
“Sports gambling is one of the most dangerous forms of gambling because of its easy accessibility and its ability to create addiction. While I know it is being said that many are already doing this kind of gambling anyway, we must understand that just because somebody is doing something illegal does not mean that it should be made legal.
“Something as detrimental as sports gambling made legal will be like putting gasoline on a fire. It will make something that is already bad just worse.”
Legal sports betting creates system to help problem gamblers
Pascrell says the best way to limit problem gambling is to create a legal sports wagering market. He believes problems with responsible gambling are more easily treated in regulated environments as opposed to when the market is illegal and untracked.
“If you don’t regulate it, you can’t track it, you can’t monitor it. And unlike alcohol and drug use, it’s really not readily apparent whether somebody’s having a gambling addiction problem. The only way to penetrate and have an impact on problem gambling in a particular jurisdiction is to regulate it.”
If sports betting was legalized, there would be responsible gambling tips and tools that are accessible. There is no incentive for illegal sportsbooks to provide help for problem gamblers. Legalizing sports wagering also provides the money it takes to combat problem gambling.
Georgia state Sen. Brandon Beach told the Associated Press that a sports betting black market is much worse than a regulated one.
“Right now, we have unregulated sports betting that’s done underground with bookies. And I would argue that’s more harmful to people.”
What are the chances this new push for sports betting succeeds?
This new development of BetMGM entering the fray is a big step forward. Several different entities are now combining resources to legalize sports betting in Georgia.
Earlier this year, Senate Bill 57 was proposed to bring sports betting to The Peach State without the need for an amendment. It was defeated handily by a 39-17 vote. Another similar bill – House Bill 380 – was proposed, but it did not even reach the point of a vote before dying. Same goes for House Resolution 210, which died in committee.
The closest sports betting legislation has come to passing was to legalize sports betting through a constitutional amendment. Last session’s Senate Resolution 140 did not receive the two-thirds majority it needed and failed to pass. It did receive a majority, though, with a 30-26 vote in favor of the legislation.
The lesson here is that a constitutional amendment is probably the best way forward.
The plan by Entain and Georgia legislators has not been detailed yet, but it stands to reason it will be a constitutional amendment. Lawmakers seem to have an increased willingness to approve such a measure. History shows it’s the most likely to pass compared to its counterparts.
No one knows exactly how much closer sports betting is to passing in Georgia, but this is a clear step in the right direction.
Photo by Shutterstock / Illustration by PlayGeorgia