Legislation to permit sports betting in Georgia made a comeback Friday in the state Senate as lawmakers scramble to drum up new revenues to plug the state’s coronavirus-ravaged budget.
A measure by Sen. Burt Jones, R-Jackson, that would legalize sports betting and hand management responsibilities to the Georgia Lottery Corp. was tacked onto a separate bill dealing with traffic tickets.
It would allow online betting platforms like FanDuel and Draft Kings to operate legally, so long as they secure licenses from the lottery. People who are 21 and older in Georgia could place bets.
Revenues from sports betting, which Jones pegged at a “conservative estimate” of $60 million annually, would go to fund Georgia’s HOPE scholarships for state university students and preschool programs.
Supporters say those revenues would also be a boon for the state budget, which is set for spending cuts of roughly $2.6 billion for the 2021 fiscal year.
On Friday, Jones said a bump in revenues plus the existing management know-how by the lottery should make the bill palatable for those wary of freeing up more forms of gambling in Georgia.
“This right here, the online betting program, is I think an answer to adding significant revenue dollars to a system [that] moving down the road will continue to need more dollars,” Jones said Friday. “And you’re taking an activity that is currently going on right now.”
Jones’s sports betting package was added to House Bill 903, a short bill tweaking motor vehicle citation rules that flew out of the state House of Representatives by a near-unanimous vote in March.
It passed out of the Senate Special Judiciary Committee in a vote early Friday morning and now heads to the full Senate. The committee, chaired by Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, is composed entirely of Democratic lawmakers.
Gambling legislation has had a rocky road in the General Assembly in recent years, including during the current 2020 legislative session. A measure to let voters decide whether to legalize sports betting, casinos and horse racing died in the House in March.