Top NBA, NFL and MLS chairmen headline panel of speakers during Atlanta Press Club’s Sports Industry Luncheon

The Mercedes Benz stadium, located less than a mile from Georgia State, is home of the Atlanta Falcons. Photo by Sylvester Silver III | The Signal

The presidents for the Atlanta Falcons, Braves and Hawks sat down on Feb. 13 at a luncheon hosted by the Atlanta Press Club to explain a new bill that they are hoping will legalize sports betting in Georgia.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in November 2019 that Atlanta’s four major sports teams had come together to form a coalition, the first of its type. As part of the alliance, the presidents of each team signed a letter that urged Georgia lawmakers to face the significance of sports betting in the state. 

In 2018, the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 law that prohibited sports betting at the federal level and in most states as unconstitutional. Since then, just 12 states have legalized sports betting with several more passing laws that have yet to see enactment. 

Falcons CEO Rich McKay, who played an instrumental role in negotiating the funding of the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta, made it clear that sports betting is happening and that it’s in the best interest of professional sports teams to get on board as soon as possible.

“Let’s face facts: The phone is where a lot of consumption is going in the streaming world, and that is where mobile sports betting is occurring, “McKay said when asked about the bill he and his colleagues are supporting. “So, to us, the idea that you can begin to engage with those people, which in the state of Georgia is thought to be $1.5 billion, in our mind, it made perfect sense.”

Braves CEO Derick Schiller echoed McKay’s thoughts and pointed out that the legalization of sports betting would result in a significant amount of tax revenue.

“I think this an opportunity for Georgia not to be left behind,” Schiller said. “You need to think about this going back to the fundamental thought that I think everyone in this room knows, [which] is that sports betting is happening today in the state of Georgia illegally, and the state of Georgia is receiving zero tax dollars for that.”

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin made it clear that the sports teams would not be making any money off sports bets. 

“We’re doing this not for an economic gain in the literal sense, but to keep future fans engaged in our sport,” Schiller said. “Just because you were successful 50 years ago doesn’t mean you’re successful today.”

When asked about the morality of sports betting, Hawks President Steve Koonin said the argument is not valid.

“What confuses me with these arguments is that this is happening,” Koonin said. “So if you’re against legal [sports betting], … you’re tacitly endorsing unregulated illegal [betting] because the behavior is not going to stop because some people are opposed. What we’re saying is make it legal, make it regulated to make it taxed because it’s not a behavior that’s going away.”

The three presidents also mentioned neighboring Tennessee, which recently passed sports betting laws with the hope of persuading Georgia legislatures

Ultimately, Georgia, a state that holds an active evangelical populace, will have to decide on betting, and it very well might come down to money, something sports is exceptionally proficient at generating.