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ATLANTA – Legislation to legalize online sports betting in Georgia gained momentum in the state Senate Thursday just as it appeared to get sidetracked in the Georgia House of Representatives.
A Senate committee passed a constitutional amendment that would put sports betting on the statewide ballot next year for Georgia voters to decide.
Senators decided to pursue the referendum route after the House postponed a floor vote on a bill aimed at legalizing sports betting without changing the state Constitution.
“It looks like it might not fare well in the House,” said Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee. “[A constitutional amendment] might be the way to go.”
Sports betting supporters, including an alliance of Atlanta’s four pro sports teams, have been pushing since last year for lawmakers to legalize betting on sports by statute, which would need only simple majority votes of the House and Senate.
Constitutional amendments require two-thirds majorities in each of the two legislative chambers, a higher hurdle that backers of legalizing casino gambling and pari-mutuel betting on horse racing have been unable to clear in the General Assembly in a decade of effort.
Cowsert said he has become convinced that passing a statute authorizing the Georgia Lottery Corp. to oversee sports betting without amending the Constitution wouldn’t overcome a court challenge.
“It’s a real stretch to call sports betting a lottery game,” he said. “We’re on pretty thin ice to convince a court.”
Cowsert said going the constitutional amendment route also would let lawmakers dedicate the proceeds from sports betting to purposes other than Georgia’s HOPE Scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs, which the lottery helps fund.
The constitutional amendment the committee approved Thursday would dedicate the proceeds instead to needs-based college scholarships, rural health care and deployment of broadband in unserved areas.
“I think this will probably generate much broader support for this initiative,” Cowsert said
Sen. Ed Harbison, D-Columbus, said HOPE originally was a needs-based scholarship program when voters approved the lottery in the early 1990s. After lottery sales took off, lawmakers removed an income cap that had been placed on scholarship awards, and HOPE become a merit-based program.
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Besides the constitutional change, the committee also approved a 42-page “enabling” bill with details on how sports betting would be conducted in Georgia.
Under the bill, sportsbooks would pay a 16% tax on their income to the state.
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The lottery board would license at least six companies such as FanDuel and DraftKings to operate online sportsbooks in Georgia. The companies would pay an application fee of $10,000 and annual operating fees of $100,000.
While wagering on college sports would be allowed, bettors could not wagers on Georgia’s sports teams.
Bettors would have to be located physically inside the state, a provision that would be enforced by geofencing technology.
As was the case during previous legislative hearings on legalizing gambling, the sports betting proposal drew opposition from representatives of faith-based groups.
Mike Griffin, representing the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said online sports betting, which can be accessed through the convenience of a cellphone, is particularly prone to attracting problem gamblers.
“The majority of people who gamble are responsible” he said. “It’s the irresponsible people who contribute the most money.”
Cowsert said the legislation includes provisions to discourage addictive gambling. It would limit bettors to spending no more than $2,500 a month and prohibit sportsbooks from extending credit to bettors, he said.
Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, argued sports betting is already taking place illegally in Georgia, but the state isn’t benefitting because it can’t be taxed.
“This puts structure in it … [and] revenue that goes to important uses,” he said. “The money goes to a good cause. Right now, it goes to the bookie.”
The constitutional amendment and enabling bill now head to the Senate Rules Committee to schedule votes on the Senate floor.
This is where understanding sports handicapping comes in. There are two ways to perceive sports handicapping:
- Vegas handicapping games
- You handicapping the pick
The most basic understanding of sports handicapping is where the oddsmakers provide bettors with a spread or line to wager with.
Here is the exact definition of handicapping:
A race or contest in which contestants are given advantages or compensations to equalize the chances of winning.
Sports betting is technically neither a race nor contest, but sportsbooks do give everyone a chance at an advantage by issuing point spreads for any given matchup.
It’s not always as simple as saying “this team will win” or “this team will lose.” Vegas enhances the bet, and in some ways simplifies it by giving bettors the opportunity to pick an underdog without really picking them.
A great example is trying to pick a tough NFL game between the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans.
The Patriots are yearly title contenders, while the Titans usually aren’t. Vegas knows New England will be the obvious favorite, and because of that, few will bet on them straight-up. Bettors won’t have that much interest in betting on the Titans, either, seeing as they’re unlikely to win.
Vegas handicaps this contest by awarding a point spread, like this:
- Patriots -10
- Titans +10
This handicap allows you to bet on the Patriots and obtain value in the same breath. A game like this would carry something like a -425 Money Line or greater in favor of New England. If you’re betting on this game, you would need to throw down $425 just to get $100 back on top of your bet.
There isn’t much upside in that, so bettors are instead drawn to the point spread. In this case, bettors need to decide if the Patriots are such a safe bet that they can cover the spread. If so, they can bet what they wish that the Patriots will win by 11 points, effectively covering the 10-point spread at hand.
On the flip side, those that believe the Titans might either win or at least play a close game can bet on the Titans to beat the spread. In this case, the Titans would simply have to lose by 10 points or fewer, and you would then convert a win on your wager.
That’s the beauty of the handicap the oddsmakers give you. It doesn’t always work out, but it puts underdogs in play and at least in theory helps make every single contest a bettable option.
The second way to perceive sports handicapping is where the bettor does all they can to take advantage of any potential edge Vegas hands them. The sportsbooks think that they’re calling the games right and that they have the edge, but if you put in the research and make the right pick, you can profit.
That doesn’t always mean you’re going to come out on top, and Vegas doesn’t need to be wrong for bettors to win, either. It also doesn’t mean that when people do win, they’ll always win big.
Many bettors refer to “the grind” of sports betting, because it’s not about one big win or beating Vegas. It’s about handicapping each individual game you plan on wagering on and coming out with as many wins as possible on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.
The point here is that Vegas handicapping games can be something to look at, but the idea of sports handicapping is an idea all by itself. It’s the act of researching, detailing, explaining, and proving that a pick can/will be correct.