From the incipience of gambling with the mob gangsters of boxing fights in Vegas to the famous horse betting races at the Kentucky Derby, sports betting has always been a part of American culture. In states like New Jersey, Nevada and Indiana, sports betting is helping increase their revenues. However, sports and business leaders within Atlanta are exploring the possibilities of legalized gambling can bring to the state of Georgia.

Sports betting is often associated with controversies such as with Pete Rose, manager of the Cincinnati Reds from 1984-1989. After a heated debate, on August 23, 1989, Rose was banned for life by Major League baseball. Years later, Pete Rose admitted to gambling “I bet on my team to win,” Rose said. “That’s what I did in a nutshell. I was wrong, but I didn’t taint the game.”

According to, sports betting can generate up to $150 billion from the internet and online betting. Unfortunately, illegal gambling is viewed negatively and comprises the integrity of sports and data. As the evolution of sports betting becomes digital and mobile the perception is changing to become a profitable business. Nevertheless, Atlanta’s sports teams are united and are proposing major changes to the sports industry in Georgia.

Steve Koonin, President and CEO of the Atlanta Hawks; Rich McKay, President and CEO of the Atlanta Falcons; and Derek Schiller, President, and CEO of the Atlanta Braves, believe the pending legislation of Georgia House Bill 570 and Georgia Senate Bill 403 legalizing gambling and sports betting will be positive for Atlanta. Moreover, the aforementioned franchises, plus Atlanta United have formed the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance and sent a letter to state lawmakers asking them to legalize online and mobile sports betting.

“Georgia is the 12th largest state for illegal wagering,” the franchise presidents wrote. “It is not going away. That is why we must ensure the industry is above-board and transparent.”

This is the first time all of Atlanta’s sports franchises have come together to support a legislative initiative.

Georgia Senate Bill 403 would place sports betting under the authority of the Georgia Lottery Corporation and will create a new entity called the Georgia Mobile Sports Wagering Integrity Commission to provide oversight.

On Feb. 20, Moderators, Eric Jackson, Business Sports Reporter for the Atlanta Business Chronicle and Donna Lowry, Capitol Correspondent for Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Lawmakers offered these high-level executives a chance to highlight the positive reasons why Atlanta can benefit from this controversial practice at the Commerce Club in downtown Atlanta for a lunch discussion.

Audience: Sports Betting – How can it help Georgia Sports?

Koonin: “Illegal gambling (sports betting) disrespects the integrity of sports and the data that is collected. It also affects our fan base. Now, most of our fans view sports through mobile devices. We believe that regulating and taxing sports betting is best for us.”

Audience: What was the motivation for working together as an alliance?
McKay: “It is an opportunity for Ga to not be left behind. Our integrity is important and protecting the sanctity of our sports. We have to make sure the data of sports is true official data confirmed by the leagues.”

Schiller: “People are consuming sports on mobile devices. It makes perfect sense to focus on the betting on the phone and show the legislature. People communicate and spend 8 – 10 hours on the phone. It’s another game it’s like another lottery. It helps keep futures fans engaged in sports.”

Audience: How do sports betting bring in money and revenue?
Koonin: “We should not compare ourselves with other states. Currently, the state of Georgia is receiving no money from sports betting. There are 14 states that receive revenue. For example, New Jersey makes $250 million in revenue and Indiana makes $130 million in revenue. That money is licensed and taxed and help these states.”

Audience: How did Tennessee legislation affect your judgment in creating your bill proposal for sports betting in Georgia?

Schiller: “Legalizing sports betting was helpful to bring in revenue and it also increased fan engagement. This legislation will also help with integrity.”

Audience: How will you respond to religious groups who oppose mobile sports gambling?

Koonin: “We welcome all groups to look at our current legislation Georgia Bill 570 and we will gladly explain our legislation.”

Audience: How will you control age and credit limitations?
McKay: “We will carefully monitor our data and have limitations on our sports and our data. We want to protect our data.”

Audience: Can this legislation of House bill 570 help our state?

Steve Koonin: “Make it legal and let’s tax it because illegal sports betting is not going away.”

As Koonin, McKay, and Schiller argued, the financial windfall for the state of Georgia could be tremendous. The sports coalition estimates allowing sports betting would generate about $50 million in gross revenue for Georgia. However, the state should only consider legalizing gambling if the government can provide safeguards and regulations. As former Hall of Fame Head Coach Tom Osborne testified against a sports betting bill in the Nebraska Legislature, he famously said, “Sports betting usually impacts those who can least afford it.”

Virginia Galloway, a lobbyist with Georgia Faith and Freedom Coalition, said she was disappointed that Atlanta’s teams were pushing for sports betting.

“It’s sad that these great American pastimes want to bring in the predatory gambling business to take advantage of their fans,” she said. “Didn’t Pete Rose get thrown out of baseball for gambling? But now, for the sake of more revenue, these teams are ready to drop their pants — and hardworking Georgians will be on the hook for the havoc it wreaks, both socially and economically.”


Steve Koonin, CEO of the Atlanta Hawks, has spoken out in support of the legalization of sports betting in Georgia. (Photo: Jason Getz/USAT)
Steve Koonin, CEO of the Atlanta Hawks, has spoken out in support of the legalization of sports betting in Georgia. (Photo: Jason Getz/USAT)

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