Atlanta Falcons CEO Rich McKay remembers sitting in an NFL meeting recently, talking about the Oakland Raiders’ impending move to Las Vegas. It’s a city that was once off-limits for professional sports teams because of its association with gambling.
“‘Can you imagine we’re talking about a stadium opening in Las Vegas,” said McKay, recalling his conversation with a longtime colleague. “Five years ago, we wouldn’t have talked about being allowed the plane to land in Las Vegas. So times have changed.”
Times have indeed changed as professional sports teams are now fully embracing gambling as a way to sustain interest from their fans.
McKay on Thursday was sitting alongside his counterparts with the Atlanta Hawks and Braves at a roundtable luncheon organized by the Atlanta Press Club. These franchises, along with Atlanta United, are pushing state lawmakers to make sports gambling legal in Georgia.
Some advocates are also pushing for casino gambling in Georgia and wagering on horse races, both of which would require a ballot referendum if passed by the legislature. These CEOs say they’re only focused on online sports gambling.
The effort to legalize sports betting in Georgia has taken a backseat during the current legislative session as lawmakers continue to work on balancing the state’s budget. But the legislation is still out there, and it has the full-throated support of the city’s big four professional sports teams.
Gone are the days when sports teams worried about gamblers compromising the integrity of their sports.
Now, all they see is upside, even though as Hawks’ CEO Steve Koonin notes, teams won’t get a cut of the profits if sports betting is made legal.
“We’re doing this, not for an economic gain, in the literal sense, but to keep future fans engaged in our sport,” Koonin said.
Engagement in the form of watching games on TV and attending them in person.
Braves’ CEO Derek Schiller said sports betting is an issue that could actually bring lawmakers from both sides of the aisle together. Schiller said Georgians are already using their phones to place bets on sporting events through out-of-state websites.
“It is something that everybody can get behind, taxing something that is already ongoing and receiving those revenues to the state and allowing the politicians to determine where the dollars then go to,” Schiller said.
Advocates say legalized sports betting could bring in billions of dollars at a time when Georgia is desperately seeking more revenue.
Opponents still question the morality of gambling in any form.
But Atlanta’s sports executives are all in.