High-level executives from four of Atlanta’s professional athletic franchises are joining forces to persuade Georgia lawmakers to approve sports betting.
The presidents of baseball’s Atlanta Braves, the NFL Falcons, the NBA Hawks and the United of Major League Soccer (MLS) recently set up the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance and composed letters to Peach State policymakers pushing them to sign off on online and mobile sports wagering.
Earlier this year, Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, told state agencies to devise strategies for trimming spending by as much as six percent in the current fiscal year. Some Georgia politicians have taken that as an opportunity to explore revenue-enhancing opportunities, including gambling expansion in a state that has long opposed it.
The team executives argue that Georgia has one of the largest illicit sports wagering economies in the US, and that gamblers will continue indulging their habit, regardless of its illegal status. Others see legitimate sports betting as a way of better connecting with fans.
I think state-by-state, you’re going to continue to see this chip away. It will take time,” said Liberty Media CEO and president Greg Maffei on that company’s Monday earnings conference call. “And there are clearly some states which are unlikely ever, for at least for a long time, to pass it. But major states will do it as a revenue source.”
Liberty Media owns the Atlanta Braves and Formula One racing.
Tough Road Ahead
Atlanta’s professional sports franchises may face a tough road in terms of bringing sports betting to life in Georgia. The state is one of just eight that currently doesn’t have commercial or tribal gaming venues, and its sole source of legalized gambling is the state lottery.
Data confirms the Peach State is religious, with about two-thirds of residents there identifying as highly devoted to faith, prompting some moral opposition to expanded gaming from conservative lawmakers. However, other Georgia Republicans believe more betting options would increase employment opportunities while bolstering tax receipts for the state.
For expanded wagering options to come to fruition in the state, politicians would have to author an amendment to the state’s constitution and voters would need to approve it. The same process would be applicable to sports betting.
“Getting a constitutional amendment through the General Assembly is a heavy lift and would require at least 120 state representatives and 37 senators to pass the legislation,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The members of the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance said they’ve consulted with legislative attorneys and came away with the view that a constitutional amendment isn’t necessary to bring sports betting to life. However, the group didn’t comment on whether or not voter approval will be needed.
Georgia teams and politicians backing sports betting believe with neighboring North Carolina and Tennessee both having signed off on it, the timing is right to pursue it in the Peach State. The other states that border Georgia – Alabama, Florida and South Carolina – aren’t close to permitting sports wagering.