Fate of sports gambling bill comes down to Friday committee hearing

ATLANTA — There won’t be any casino gambling or horse racing in Georgia this year. But sports wagering is still alive on the legislative agenda.

There are still a lot of hurdles at the Gold Dome before it can become law.

Evangelicals and the far-right don’t want this bill, so the Republican sponsor has to get moderate Republicans and Democrats on board — and that is not an easy thing to do.

Every Atlanta professional sports team wants to see the General Assembly legalize sports wagering, even though they wouldn’t see a dime in revenue.

They believe sports wagering on your phone through apps would help keep their fan base more engaged. That includes the Atlanta Braves.

Braves CEO Derek Schiller told Channel 2′s Richard Elliot last month that hundreds of millions of dollars in sports betting is already leaving Georgia, so why not keep it here, regulate it and let the state profit from it?

“We as a professional sports team want to see that it gets regulated. We want to see the state benefit from it, and we want to see the tax money stay in the state, so we think it’s a good thing,” Schiller said.

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“This will capture and regulate something that’s going on today, and I believe we need to do it,” said Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, who is pushing to pass the bill.

He insists half the revenue will go to the HOPE Scholarship and Pre-K along with a needs-based scholarship, rural health care and broadband.

On Wednesday, the bill ran into the House Committee on Rules and a lot of tough questioning, primarily from Republicans.

“Does this open the door to any other kinds of gambling?” state Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee asked during that hearing.

“It does not,” someone on the committee said.

The committee decided to sit on the bill, at least until Friday.

“Once a decision is made, then we’ll decide its fate,” Smith said.

Evangelicals promise to continue to fight to make sure that fate mirrors the fate of past gambling bills.

“Georgia is the No. 1 place to do business, and we don’t need other businesses coming in here seeking to exploit us, to change our state from being what it’s already being without any more additional gambling,” said Mike Griffin with the Georgia Baptist Convention.

That committee meets again Friday morning and that’s when we should learn the bill’s fate.

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