All four of Georgia’s major professional sports teams have banded together, writing in an open letter that they support legal mobile and internet sports betting on professional sports, but not on college sports.
First reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the letter was posted Monday on the SportsIntegrityAlliance.com website, a new group formed by the NFL Atlanta Falcons, NBA Hawks, Major League Baseball Braves and the Major League Soccer United.
In the letter, the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance writes about mobile and online pro sports wagering, “[it] will greatly enhance our engagement with fans, especially the new generation of fans. Moreover, it will include rigorous consumer protection, taxation of revenues to benefit our state, and tools to uphold the integrity of games and help law enforcement eradicate illegal sports wagering.”
“I do think it’s both somewhat of a revenue opportunity [for sports leagues], but perhaps even more of a fan-engagement opportunity, which will just strengthen baseball,” Greg Maffei, CEO of Liberty Media, which owns the Braves, said on an earnings call on Monday, per the AJC.
Pro teams: We want to ensure integrity of games
The letter, which is hand signed by the presidents of all four teams, calls on the state legislature to legalize sports betting in an effort to “protect the integrity of professional sports” and to “disinfect” the billions of dollars of illegal wagering industry in the state.
In the letter, the pro teams acknowledge that Georgians are already betting on sports, but in an illegal environment, and imply that it is incumbent upon lawmakers to make sports betting legal, diverting the flow of dollars from offshore sportsbooks to state coffers, and sports bettors from illegal to legal, regulated markets.
The letter and new coalition mark the first time that Georgia’s pro teams have banded together for a cause, according to the AJC.
“We felt it was important that we formed this alliance so that we could advise the Legislature if they’re going to consider drafting legislation,” Braves president and CEO Derek Schiller said. The coalition’s goal is “ensuring that this activity — that is happening already — gets regulated in the right way and for us, most importantly, that we ensure that the integrity of the sport is preserved.”
The website FAQ’s states that the coalition’s not-yet-publicly released draft legislation will not permit wagering on kiosks, presumably the standalone kind that will populate taverns in Montana and Washington D.C. Unanswered is whether or not the pro teams support physical sports betting locations, or whether sports betting would be allowed in pro venues.
Washington D.C. and Illinois, both of which are in the process of launching legal sports betting, will allow both mobile and in-person wagering at professional arenas.
There has also been some recent effort to bring casino-style gambling facilities to Georgia. But separate from that, neighboring Tennessee has proven that you can still get to legal sports betting without tethering sportsbooks to physical gambling properties.
A law passed earlier this year in Tennessee lays the groundwork for the forthcoming rollout of a mobile-only sportsbook framework in the state. Sportsbook licensure and launches are set to come in the next several months.
Indeed, the FAQ page on the coalition’s website makes specific reference to Tennessee:
4. HOW MUCH ANNUAL STATE REVENUE DO YOU ANTICIPATE IF GEORGIA LEGALIZES PROFESSIONAL SPORTS WAGERING?
Most recently, Tennessee passed a law that legalizes mobile wagering and they anticipate $50 million of annual revenue to the state. So it is safe to anticipate annual revenue greater than $50 million.
Breaking with the leagues?
There’s a key distinction between the letter itself and the FAQ section of the website. It concerns pro sports teams taking a direct cut of sports betting and/or tax revenue — or not.
That debate has played out in statehouses across the country. The NBA and MLB have lobbied aggressively in favor of such a direct cut — or a “royalty,” or “compensation,” alternatively known as an “integrity fee,” in the amount of 0.25% off-the-top on all wagers. Not a single one of the 20 so jurisdictions to legalize so far has established such a requirement on state-licensed sportsbooks. But the NBA and MLB continue to fight for it, publicly, as recently as last week in Missouri.
So consider what appears to be a small but significant break between the Georgia pro teams and their respective leagues. From the FAQ (emphasis added):
10. WILL ANY OF THE PROFESSIONAL SPORTS TEAMS MAKE MONEY IF MOBILE WAGERING IS PERMITTED?
Our professional sports teams in Georgia will not receive a direct share of any gambling or tax revenue from gambling. It will, however, enhance engagement with fans, especially the next generation of fans.
Look here in the letter:
Further, professional sports teams in Georgia will not receive a direct share of any tax revenues from gaming.
No mention of “direct share of gambling” revenue. So which is it, boys?
But not straying too far, members of the GPSIA write that legislation should “require operators to use official league data to settle in-game wagers.”
Constitutional amendment may be needed
Georgia lawmakers have been actively discussing sports betting since this summer, when they held several meetings on the topic. Representatives from the professional leagues were invited to these meetings, which were not open to the public. Lawmakers believe they may need to send sports betting to voters in order to legalize.
“If we’re going to allow sports betting, and most other types of betting, the wise course, the safe course — and in order to give the people of Georgia the opportunity to weigh in on the issue — would certainly be to go through with a well-crafted constitutional amendment,” Legislative Counsel Rick Ruskell told lawmakers last month.
Yet the GPSIA believes that legalization of mobile sports betting could be accomplished without a constitutional amendment.
“Based on consultation with legislative counsel, we do not believe that the authorization of mobile sports wagering requires an amendment to Georgia’s Constitution,” the website reads.
Georgia’s next legislative session begins on Jan. 13, 2020.