Potential online gambling a hit with Atlanta’s pro sports executives

    Donna Lowry, with Georgia Public Broadcasting, and Atlanta Business Chronicle's Eric Jackson moderate an Atlanta Press Club panel discussion in February with Atlanta Hawks president Steve Koonin, Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay and Derek Schiller, president of the Atlanta Braves. The sports executives detailed why they support legalized sports gambling in Georgia. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

    Leaders of Atlanta’s major professional sports franchises reaffirmed their commitment to make sports gambling legal in Georgia at a press forum Thursday.

    The Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta United joined forces last year to ask lawmakers to support betting on pro sports to keep up with a wave of states that legalized sports wagering. Three of Atlanta’s top team executives told a gathering at an Atlanta Press Club luncheon that online and mobile device sports betting is a win-win proposition that will increase their sports’ popularity and generate big bucks for the state.

    Georgia should get a slice of the estimated $1.5 billion illegally wagered last year on sports in the state, Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay said.

    Gambling revenue could be used for HOPE scholarships, according to the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance – the brand name the four pro sports franchises are using to promote online sports betting.

    “We wanted to show the Legislature and the public that we think it’s a good idea,” McKay said. “We like the idea because we think it brings (sports betting) out of the dark and unregulated and into the light.”

    Twenty states have legalized sports wagering since 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal law banning online gambling outside of Nevada. Although most sports betting is placed on a phone or other mobile device, some states still restrict betting to a physical location, according to Sports Illustrated.

    In Georgia, sports gambling seemed to gain some traction ahead of the 2020 legislative session in January. House and Senate committees heard arguments that casinos, horse racing and sports betting could hand Georgia a windfall.

    Georgia lawmakers, though, sent mixed signals about the chances legalized gambling might emerge from this year’s General Assembly, with some top state officials giving it long odds.

    Following Thursday’s event, Snellville Republican, Rep. Brett Harrell, said he still expects a gambling bill to be presented this session that will let voters decide whether to legalize casinos, horse racing and sports betting.

    The allied four professional sports franchises prefer that sports betting gets considered as a standalone.

    “I think this is an opportunity for Georgia not to be left behind and for us to utilize the momentum that’s occurring,” said Derek Schiller, president and CEO of the Atlanta Braves.

    Professional leagues supporting legalized gambling means they’ll also be invested in making sure bettors get the best data, Hawks’ president and CEO Steve Koonin said.

    “We are not the (sports betting) house,” he said. “We’re not taking any action. We’re doing this not for an economic gain, in the literal sense, but to keep future fans engaged in our sport.”


    Stanley Dunlap
    Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.