ATLANTA — The top executives of the Atlanta Braves, Falcons and Hawks pitched legislation to legalize sports betting in Georgia Thursday at a luncheon sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club.
Derek Schiller of the Braves, Rich McKay of the Falcons and Steve Koonin of the Hawks said sports betting wouldn’t spur a direct windfall of revenue for their teams. Rather, the benefit would come from increasing fan engagement, they said.
“Somebody who bets on a game is 19 times more likely to watch it,” said Koonin, the Hawks’ president and CEO.
Sports betting is a relatively recent arrival on the legalized gambling scene. It wasn’t possible until a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2018 struck down a federal law that banned commercial sports betting in most states.
Since then, 11 states have legalized sports betting, seven others have approved but are yet to launch sports betting and 24 states – including Georgia – are considering legalization legislation.
State Rep. Craig Gordon, D-Savannah, has introduced a constitutional amendment asking Georgia voters to decide in a statewide referendum whether to legalize sports betting.
A separate “enabling” bill sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, one of the biggest supporters of legalizing gambling in the General Assembly, contains specifics on how sports betting would operate in Georgia. For one thing, betting would be conducted through cellphones and other mobile devices, since Georgia has no brick-and-mortar betting facilities such as casinos.
“The phone is where a lot of consumption is going on in the digital world,” McKay said.
Stephens’ bill also would prohibit betting on amateur sports, including college games. A portion of gambling proceeds would go toward education in Georgia.
The prospects for getting sports betting through the General Assembly this year are not encouraging. Georgia Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, said last month that legalizing gambling is not a priority in his caucus.
Lobbyists for religious groups oppose legalized gambling in any form – sports betting, casinos or pari-mutuel betting on horse racing – as an immoral activity that carries hidden social costs including increased crime and gambling addictions.
But Schiller said gambling is already going on in Georgia.
“Sports betting is happening today illegally, and the state of Georgia is receiving no tax dollars for it,” he said. “It’s really found money that’s not happening today.”
Schiller also argued that legalizing sports betting rather than allowing it to go on illegally would give the state the tools to regulate the activity, including setting age limits and putting restrictions on the use of credit cards.