Legal online gambling in Georgia - will it happen?

Georgia is known for its firm anti-gambling stance, joining South Carolina, Hawaii, Utah, and Vermont as one of only five states that do not allow tribal or commercial casinos and pari-mutuel and wagering on sports. However, all that could change, as, in 2020, there were efforts to legalize sports betting in hopes that it would cause a chain reaction leading to further legislation, including that of online gambling.

ONLINE GAMBLING LAW IN GEORGIA

At present, there is no online gambling law in Georgia, and almost all internet betting activity is illegal within the state’s borders, as it remains one of the most gambling-restrictive territories in the US. Residents can purchase lottery tickets online. The state tolerates Daily Fantasy Sports because there is no explicit legislation against it and figures as a skill game. As is common throughout the US, authorities do not seek to prosecute those that make bets at foreign sites.

Recently, Peach State politicians have been making efforts to push through online sports betting. In February, Republican senator Burt Jones filed Senate Bill 403, which aimed to authorize the activity through the “Georgia Lottery.” The bill contained clauses that stated that potential tax revenues would benefit the HOPE scholarship program, established in 1993. The state’s lottery sells tickets online, so it already regulates online gambling in one form. The bill died in committee, with goals to tax betting revenues at 20% and charge operators a $900,000 licensing fee.

However, in June, the Senate voted to revive the bill, attaching it to Bill HB 903, which would have also overseen traffic tickets. However, the bill did not pass. That same month, the Georgia House Regulated Industries Committee voted in favor of Senate Resolution 841, sponsored by seven Republican senators. It aimed to allow residents to amend Georgia’s constitution to allow sports betting, pari-mutuel wagering, and casino gambling if it did receive a two-thirds vote in each chamber. It also did not see any action beyond its committee, failing to reach the Georgia General Assembly’s finish line over the summer.

So far, it is clear that despite nationwide and local support, the state’s lawmakers are not jumping on the gambling bandwagon. Many are firm in their stances that a lottery-run sports betting model is the quickest turnaround for sports betting legislation. For horse racing betting and casino gaming to become law, since Georgia’s constitution outright prohibits these activities, there must be A constitutional amendment via a referendum. If they become legal, the state then also has the power to quickly allow for operators to take bets over the internet, thanks to the DoJ’s 2011 interpretation of the Wire Act of 1961.

INITIATIVES

Recent state-wide polls show that more than 70% of Georgians desire to express their stance on gambling, similar to what transpired in states such as Louisiana and Maryland. A 2020 January Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showed that 64% of people living in Georgia support casino gambling, a figure that’s up 8% from a 2017 poll.

According to Senator Burt Jones, Georgia’s illegal sports betting market is worth around $1.5 billion. It makes no sense for the state not to regulate the activity and other games of chance down the road. When there were talks about slashing budgets by up to $3.6 billion due to the current global pandemic, holding off passing such legislation only hurts the public.

Politicians claim that if gambling becomes legal, it could open thousands of construction jobs per site and hundreds of permanent jobs per gaming establishment. Overall, the estimated number of new permanent jobs would be around 50,000. On top of this, the state would create $1 billion in new revenue, and much of it would spill over to the state’s budget via taxes. There are already many illegal slot-like machines available throughout the state at VFWs and convenience stores. Bettors are also playing at offshore sites. So, residents are already engaging in these activities, and Georgia loses out on potential tax influxes.

In 2017, an attempt failed to bring two casinos to Georgia, one in Atlanta and the other in either Columbus, Augusta, or Savannah. In 2020, Speedway Motorsports made its intention clears that if a gambling law passes, it will transform its Atlanta Motor Speedway racetrack into a billion-dollar casino resort and theme park.

DraftKings is a massive Fantasy Sports brand which is also pushing for online sports betting in Georgia. DraftKings’ co-founder, Matt Kalish, relayed a statement to the Atlanta Business Chronicle saying that there should be a reasonable tax structure in place so operators could run their business while competing with offshore sportsbooks that don’t pay taxes.

Many analysts say that politicians should look at neighboring Tennessee, which passed a bill similar to senator Jones’ proposed one. It allowed sports betting to run under the state lottery, and once it came into power and the activity became legal, residents placed over $27 million in bets in the first week alone. Leading professional franchises are also lobbying for lawmakers to approve legal wagering options, particularly digital ones.

Democrats are typically more willing to back casino gaming and sports betting, but their positive attitudes toward such legalization mean little without Republican support. Though more Republicans seem more inclined to lean in this direction than ever, their party leaders do not look to advance such bills unless they have majority support within their caucus.

TO WRAP UP

Moves are happening, and politicians are pushing for change, leading to renewed sports betting efforts in 2021. However, the first Georgia casino and sportsbook seem to be a few years away. Currently, many entrenched logistical and political obstacles exist for such legislation to become a reality. Some speculate that lawmakers may finally pass gambling laws by 2023, which will be a step towards online gaming becoming available to Georgians. Internet sports betting should happen instantly along with land-based sportsbooks, while digital casino gambling may have to wait.

 https://www.fultoncountyexpress.com/legal-online-gambling-in-georgia-will-it-happen/