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Legalized sports betting bill passes Georgia Senate

Proceeds from the legalized gaming would go to needs-based college scholarships, rural broadband, and healthcare.
Credit: AP
A man walks by as betting odds for NFL football's Super Bowl 55 are displayed on monitors at the Circa resort and casino sports book, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

ATLANTA — The Georgia Senate passed a gambling bill on Friday. Proceeds from the legalized gaming would benefit needs-based college scholarships, rural broadband, and health care programs.

The benefits represent a major departure from typical Georgia Lottery beneficiaries -- the state's HOPE Scholarship and Pre-K programs. 

There are a dozen gambling bills -- mostly stalled -- at the Capitol 

The bill that was passed would give state blessing to gambling on professional sports – a bill supported by professional sports teams like the Atlanta Braves, Falcons, and Hawks.

"Everything else from professional ping-pong to frog jumping – provided it’s professional – can benefit from this," said state Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga)

The bill would allow betting on college sports -- however, it won't allow betting on Georgia college sports. 

In the past, opposition to gambling in Georgia had stalled casino and other gambling bills. 

But, as the state legislature has gained more Democrats, the sportsbook bill has gained some traction, with the help of scores of lobbyists -- representing gambling interests, who watched the Senate vote on hallway monitors.

"At the end of the day, all bettors are losers. Trust me," state Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) told senators Friday.  "Many of you know my opposition to casino gaming, because I think it preys on the poor and the vulnerable."

Yet Cowsert spoke in favor of the sports gambling bill.  

"On the other hand, to many people, that’s entertainment," he said. "And it’s almost part of our southern culture."

Democrats had stalled a sports betting bill in the state House, because they wanted needs-based scholarships to benefit from the proceeds -- which is something that the Senate bill provides.