ATLANTA – Legalizing sports betting could distract an estimated $ 4.8 billion a year that Georgians now illegally spend on gaming, taxing them and using some of the proceeds on education, supporters said.

The Senate Regulated Industry and Utilities Committee held a hearing on laws regulating online sports betting in Georgia under the jurisdiction of Georgia Lottery Corp. would legalize.

“Over 2 million [Georgians] do it now, “said Senator Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, Senior Sponsor of Senate Bill 142.” Do you know who is in control of it? The bookmakers. “

Mullis’ bill is similar to the Sports Betting Act before the Georgia House of Representatives.

Both measures would mandate the state lottery commission to license at least six operators such as FanDuel or DraftKings to run online sports books in Georgia. The companies would pay annual royalties of $ 900,000.

However, the calculations also have some major differences. While the licensed operators would pay a tax of 14% of their adjusted gross income for Georgia’s HOPE scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs, the Senate version calls for a tax of 10%.

The house bill would restrict weather to the use of debit cards, a provision designed to keep potential problem gamblers from getting over their heads. However, the Senate measure would allow both debit cards and credit cards.

Josh Mackey, an Atlanta-based lobbyist who represents FanDuel and DraftKings, said illegal offshore sports betting usually allows customers to use credit cards to place bets. Not allowing credit cards when bets are legally placed under a new Georgian law would be a deterrent, he said.

“We’re trying to get people to move away [illegal bets] to legalized bets, ”he said.

Senator Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, a member of the committee, said legalizing sports betting would divert revenue from the lottery.

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“[Sports betting] doesn’t give the state back anywhere near the amount of money the lottery makes, ”he said. “I think we have to take that into account.”

But Mullis said that most of the people who play the lottery don’t play sports bets.

“It doesn’t take off the lottery,” he said. “It’s extra money.”

Opponents of the law argued that sports betting in Georgia cannot be legalized without a constitutional amendment. Virginia Galloway, regional director of the Duluth-based Faith and Freedom Coalition, cited a 2016 statement from the Georgia Attorney General’s office on the matter.

But Robert Highsmith, an attorney who represents the Atlanta Hawks, said the state constitution specifically forbids only casino gambling. Sports betting only requires lawmakers to pass a bill authorizing Georgia Lottery Corp to add sports betting to its current operations, he said.

The constitutional route would also delay sports betting as the statewide vote would have to take place next year for Georgia voters to decide, argued Highsmith.

“It would be cleaner and eliminate this debate,” he admitted. “But if we do that, it would be at least 2023 before it could take effect.”

Committee chairman Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, suggested to Mullis to prepare a constitutional amendment to be introduced next week if lawmakers deem it necessary.

Mullis said he had one ready to go.