Georgia state lawmakers Thursday got a first look at online sports betting legislation that could bring up to 16 mobile apps to the Peach State.
House Bill 380 sponsor Rep. Marcus Wiedower explained the bill before the House Higher Education Committee. He said it differs from an earlier version of HB 380 that would have authorized both online and retail sports betting.
Only online sports betting would be authorized in Georgia under the substitute to HB 380 aired before the committee Thursday. Betting on professional, college, auto racing, esports, and Olympic events would launch before Jan. 31, 2024, per the measure, with operators taxed at a rate of 15 percent.
Wiedower said the legislation will allow Georgia to generate between $55 million to $100 million in new state tax dollars for scholarships and pre-K education in the first year alone – money he said the state is now losing to the illegal market or other states. It will also put consumer protections in place that he said are now missing.
“I contend that this is happening so prolifically under the cover of darkness, if you will,” said Wiedower. “I want to protect those who are doing it, and feel very strongly we have set up (in this bill) for there to be proper guardrails to protect those participating in this activity.”
Number of Proposed Georgia Sports Betting Licenses, Tax Rate Could Change
All Georgia sportsbooks authorized under the Wiedower bill would be regulated by the State Lottery.
The lottery would hold a master license and could offer its own platform, or contract with a private operator to do it instead. The 15 remaining licenses – with one “skin” (industry parlance for mobile app) per licensee – would go to the state’s five major pro franchises, the PGA Tour, Augusta National (site of The Masters), Atlanta Motor Speedway, and what Wiedower called seven “at-large” sportsbooks selected by the lottery.
But the number of authorized licenses could change. “We quite frankly picked a number” of potential licensees, Wiedower told the committee. “Right now it sits at 16. That allows for enough of a competitive market to put people in place but not open it up to the fly-by-night” sportsbooks, he said.
The proposed tax rate on sports betting revenue could also change. Right now, that rate is 15 percent on an operator’s adjusted gross revenue. Wiedower said he sees that tax rate increasing as the bill progresses this session – but he doesn’t see it becoming exorbitant.
“The higher we take the tax amount we run the risk of pushing people to other states,” Wiedower told the committee.
Rival Senate Bill and Next Steps
Wiedower’s bill differs from another sports betting proposal before the Georgia Senate. That bill is SB 57, sponsored by Sen. Billy Hickman, R-Statesboro. Like HB 380, Hickman’s bill would authorize online sports betting in Georgia although through more operators (up to 18, to be exact).
Additionally, SB 57 would also allow retail sports betting and fixed-odds horse race betting.
Hickman told Georgia Public Broadcasting on Feb. 2 that he is “cautiously optimistic” his bill will pass this spring. The bill was heard in committee on Tuesday and will receive another hearing, and possible vote, next week.
A second House committee hearing on HB 380 is scheduled for Feb. 21.