A Georgia House committee got over its anger toward NBA players to advance sports betting legislation Tuesday. But first, the committee removed an important part of the bill.
The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee dropped wagering on college sports from S 142 before passing the bill. The committee also moved forward SR 135, which seeks to amend the state constitution to allow sports betting.
As passed by the Senate, S 142 prohibited wagering on in-state college teams such as the Georgia Bulldogs. The committee took that a step further by disallowing any betting on college teams in the legal market.
But, as argued by House Majority Whip Trey Kelley, the committee isn’t stopping Georgians from betting on college sports. It’s only stopping Georgians from doing so legally in Georgia.
“I think it’s important that one, these activities are taking place in Georgia today. People are betting every day on college sports in an unregulated way. And if we truly want to eliminate that practice, eliminating this from the bill won’t eliminate betting on colleges. All it will do is eliminate betting on colleges in a regulated manner.”
No college wagering will keep bettors in black market
Kelley was responding to Rep. Stephen Sainz, who first brought up concerns on college betting.
“I liked the version we passed in the House because frankly it dealt with players who are getting paid as professionals to do this. Now we’re talking about collegiate athletes who are volunteers, other than getting a great college education in the state of Georgia. Have we looked at the safety implications? What tools are we giving to the safety of these students now that we’re putting a lot of money behind their performances?”
The committee had previously advanced Rep. Ron Stephens’ house bill that only included professional sports.
Kelley argued that he spoke with the leadership of the legislature in Tennessee that told him including full access to college betting was one of the most important aspects they included in the bill because it eliminated black market participation. And that Tennessee hasn’t faced any of the concerns expressed by Sainz.
“If we don’t make provisions for colleges in this measure, people are still going to have two platforms. “One that’s well regulated and we get the revenue from, and then one where they can bet on colleges in the black market.”
Kelley’s response seemed to go unheard. Rep. Erick Allen made a motion to remove college betting. Despite Kelley’s request to vote against the amendment, committee members approved it by a substantial margin.
Committee changes to Senate sports betting bill
In addition to removing college wagering, the committee made a few other changes to the Senate bill relating to revenue.
The committee increased the tax rate from 16% to 20%.
Stephens broke down that, instead of having all of the tax revenue from sports betting go to the Hope Scholarship for higher education funding, the revenue allotment would be as follows:
- 40.5%, about $61 million, to the Hope Scholarship.
- 20.5%, about $31 million, to need-based scholarships.
- 12.5%, about $18 million, to fund rural broadband internet.
- 12.5%, about $18 million, to mental health.
- 3%, about $4 million, to fund a sports commission meant to attract major sporting events to the state.
Stephens’ revenue projections likely will be much lower without college wagering.
Sen. Jeff Mullis spoke for the bill from the Senate side. He said he was fine with the changes made by the House. This was before the college prohibition amendment.
SR 135 also was changed to specify that ballot question to specify that voters are authorizing online sports wagering, and not sports betting in a retail capacity. That could impact the ability for casinos to have sportsbooks if Georgia authorizes casinos in the future.
Will Georgia sports betting bill reach the finish line?
In advancing the sports betting bills through committee two weeks after first scheduled, Georgia lawmakers seemed to move past bitter feelings toward NBA players who spoke out against their effort to change Georgia voting laws.
The bills head to the Rules Committee for assignment to the House floor, with about a week before the Georgia legislative session concludes March 31.
Because constitutional amendments require approval from two-thirds of legislators, the sports betting legislation still faces a difficult climb in the House. It would then need concurrence in the Senate, or otherwise head to a conference committee for chamber leaders to work out the differences between the bills.
It’s possible for college wagering to be added back into the bill on the House floor. Or the Senate could take a stand on its inclusion in a conference committee.
Speaking with PlayGeorgia last week about the in-state college prohibition, Stephens noted that the legislature could come back to address college betting in the future if the market is affected by the prohibition.
“I agree, if we’re going to have legal gambling, to force people into the illegal market is silly,” Stephens said. “But we have to take this first step to make sports betting legal, then maybe we can come back and tweak the rules down the road.”