ATLANTA – The legislation to legalize online sports betting in Georgia released a committee in the House of Representatives for the second time on Monday.
The House's Committee on Economic Development and Tourism passed the measure almost three weeks ago, but it has been sent back for further work and a second vote.
The biggest change in the bill since it first aired was an increase in the tax authorities licensed to operate sports betting in Georgia.
The replacement bill approved on Monday provides for a tax of 20%, compared to 14% in the original measure. A law on sports betting before the Senate provides for a tax rate of 16%.
Tennessee, which legalized online sports betting last year, is already collecting 20% from sports betting operators, said Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, chairman of the committee and the law's main sponsor.
Moving from a 14% tax to 20% tax would generate an additional $ 20 million per year in income for education in Georgia, including the HOPE scholarship program, Stephens said.
Under House Bill 86, at least six sports betting operators would be owned by Georgia Lottery Corp. licensed to operate online sports betting in Georgia with registration fees of $ 50,000 and annual royalties of $ 900,000 paid.
Ahead of Monday's vote, MP Miriam Paris, D-Macon, criticized the bill for not guaranteeing that minority-owned companies could participate in Georgia's sports betting industry.
"(The black community is) very involved in the lottery and gaming," she said. "We need to know that our communities will benefit from it."
Rep. Becky Evans, D-Atlanta, said she would like the legislation to channel a portion of the proceeds from sports betting into on-demand grants. HOPE bases its scholarships on merit.
Stephens said, however, that including a language in the bill that deals with minority-owned company involvement or need-based scholarships could require a constitutional amendment. That way, sports betting would be subject to a nationwide referendum next year that would delay entry into force until 2023, he said.
Stephens said Georgians already play sports, but the state cannot generate tax revenue from it as it is done illegally through offshore betting websites.
Deputy Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island said legalizing sports betting in Georgia won't change that.
"The gambling that is taking place now will continue to take place at sea," he said. "We won't have any influence on that."
"We will compete with them," replied Stephens.
The bill will now be sent to the House Rules Committee for a vote.