New bill introduced to legalize online sports gambling in Georgia

ATLANTA — Georgians could be able to legally bet on the Atlanta Braves, Falcons, Hawks and United in just a few months. Lawmakers filed a bill Thursday that would allow online sports gambling in the state.

The millions of dollars raised would go toward the HOPE Scholarship.

“Sunday’s the Sabbath. You wake up, and we’re watching the full slate,” said Mike Donlan an East Atlanta bartender.

Donlan is an avid fantasy football player who loves to compete against his friends for money.

“It’s easy to get invested in games when there’s something on the line like when you have some skin in the games,” said Donlan.

While he enjoys the competition, he wishes he could legally bet on games. Americans currently wager more than $150 billion on sports every year through bookies and offshore sites.

“Billions of dollars a year are already being gambled in Georgia and the state gets nothing, no tax, no benefit,” said Steve Koonin the Atlanta Hawks CEO.

The Hawks have joined forces with the Braves, Falcons and Atlanta United to form the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance. Their mission is to work with lawmakers on legislation that would legalize online and mobile sports gambling in Georgia.

“We want this to be mobile only. We don’t want to see brick and mortar facilities,” said Koonin.

Koonin said the days of young sports fans sitting in front of a TV for hours are over. Mobile is the key to keeping fans engaged.

“We don’t make a dime. There is no revenue. But the key for us is engagement,” said Koonin.

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Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal ban in 2018, 22 states have legalized some form of sports gambling. It’s a big moneymaker.

In 2020, New Jersey made $332 million off legal sports betting through the end of November.

State Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) is sponsoring Georgia’s bill. He said legalizing sports gambling will help address Georgia’s budget shortfall.

“Georgia just aims to capture those revenues for what people are already doing,” said Stephens.

He added that it won’t require a constitutional amendment because the plan is to run it through the Georgia Lottery, generating money to fund the HOPE Scholarship and pre-K programs.

But some are opposed to legal sports betting.

“It’s not a win-win. It’s a lose-lose. The only people that win are the people that run the gambling operations,” said Mike Griffin the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s Public Affairs Representative.

Griffin claimed it’s “rigged” and “legalized fraud.” He also believes it can tear families apart.

“I just started seeing him decline socially. Physically he wasn’t eating that much and he lost a tremendous amount of weight,” said the mother of a 22-year-old man addicted to online sports betting who asked to have her identity concealed because she’s part of GAM-Anon, a 12-step program for those affected by a loved one’s gambling.

She doesn’t think sports gaming companies are doing enough to protect consumers like her son who have a problem.

“I can forget about the money. I can forget about all that. I want my son back,” she said.

But two of the most successful companies in the U.S., FanDuel and DraftKings, which offer a mobile sportsbook where sports gambling is legal told Channel 2, they have protections in place.

“Consumers can do things like exclude themselves permanently from ever seeing the platform or being able to participate again, time restrictions, deposit limits,” said DraftKings President and Co-Founder Matt Kalish.

“The ability for Georgia to bring it into the light, put some guardrails on it, regulate it in a sensible way and bring tax revenue to the state, I think is really the best way to protect the people who want to participate in this activity,” said FanDuel’s Governmental Affairs Director Stacie Stern.

If the bill is signed into law this session, sports betting could start in July. Under this plan you would not be able to bet on college sports.

Channel 2 reached out to Gov. Brian Kemp’s office to see if he supports online sports betting and were told the office doesn’t comment on pending legislation.

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