Opinion: Last-minute pushes fall short in Georgia sports betting efforts

The epicenter of American sports is in Georgia this week.

Augusta National welcomes some folks for a little golf tournament starting Thursday, which is the same day the World Series championship banner will be dropped at Truist Park in Atlanta when the Atlanta Braves open the MLB season against the Cincinnati Reds.

Stage, however, does not equal stakes for Georgia sport fans. At least not this year.

Monday was the deadline for the state legislators to get a bill on Gov. Brian Kemp's desk before the end of the legislative session. But the Georgia House and Senate were unable to come to terms on a bill. Their divide was as wide-reaching as a 12-team parlay.

And Peach State lawmakers' inability to legalize sports betting will be a lose-lose proposition for the state.

House members were looking at a proposed constitutional amendment for potential rules and guidelines for betting on sports, race tracks and even casinos while the Senate was solely interested in the online sports gambling.

There was division about use of the state-collected funds, with the House proposing a tax rate at 20% with the Senate at 16%, and each body offering ideas about how the revenues would be split among HOPE scholarships, needs-based college spending for other scholarships and pre-K education.

There was division about the number of online partners, with the House wanting 18 licensed betting partners with nine tethered to professional sports organizations or venues that regularly host professional events in the state and nine independent online partners. The Senate wanted a minimum of six online operators.

The gaps proved to be too great.

"It really feels like Georgia was trying to shoehorn too many disparate categories of gambling into the proposed constitutional amendment bill at the 11th hour," said Daniel Wallach, one of America's pre-eminent sports betting lawyers and the host of the "Conduct Detrimental" podcast. "The House, in particular, was trying to take on too much in a gambling-averse state, and it would have been next to impossible to address all of the betting things [before Monday's deadline]."

Wallach is co-founding director of the University of New Hampshire School of Law's Sports Wagering and Integrity Program, the nation's first program of its kind. As more and more states legalize sports gambling - every state in the union but Idaho and Utah has either legalized sports betting or has legislation in its statehouse on it - Wallach's experience points him toward Georgia getting there, too.

Eventually.

"Jeremy Kudon, one of the most influential gaming lobbyists in the country, famously compares sports betting and fantasy sports legalization bills to Baseball Hall of Fame candidates," Wallach said, "in that there are very few first-ballot selections. Not every bill is a Mike Trout or Reggie Jackson. Sometimes it takes a couple of kicks at the can, as is evidenced by Illinois and New York, both of which eventually passed online sports betting laws following several years' of failed efforts. That's a very apt comparison here, I believe."

And when they do, the paydays - for players and the state - could be far-reaching.

First, states are partnering with professional franchises, which means there could be betting kiosks on the concourse of the Falcons game or in the club level during a Braves doubleheader.

"Teams are picking up the mantle from the professional sports leagues, which were seeking royalties and benefits at the league level," Wallach said. "The leagues were not successful getting a cut from the state legislatures, but now the teams are working with the direct license holders."

There are 10.7 million people in Georgia, according to the 2020 census. By comparison, Tennessee has 6.8 million people and has collected $35.5 million in state taxes since gambling was legalized in November of 2020.

Now add in a hidden gem in the betting world that Georgia holds - Hartsfield International Airport, which moves more than 110 million travelers through its facility each year. Considering early arrival requirements, layovers and delays, Hartsfield could become the busiest sportsbook in America if Georgia had legalized sports wagering.

"Everyone thinks [Georgia] is a big deal," Wallach said in his podcast.

But right now, the only sure bet is one that too many sports fans are familiar with: Gotta wait until next year.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273. Follow him on Twitter @jgreesontfp.

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photo Jay Greeson