Like everyone else, Augusta National Golf Club officials were tuned in to Tiger Woods early this week, waiting to see if he would participate in the Masters. But they were also keeping their eyes on developments unfolding 150 miles west at the state capitol in Atlanta.
During the Georgia legislative session that ended early Tuesday morning, state lawmakers nixed closely watched legislation that would have allowed nine local pro sports teams and affiliated venues to receive mobile sportsbook licenses. Augusta National was among the potential licensees.
Though the law failed to make the cut this year, Augusta National’s inclusion on the list was a noteworthy addition, given the club’s tight hold on its brand and image. The Masters itself epitomizes this, as the famous tournament has minimal corporate sponsors and could generate millions annually if it went to market with its TV rights instead of maintaining its handshake deal with CBS Corp.
Augusta National hasn’t publicly taken a stance on gambling, but joining the PGA Tour in efforts to get sports betting legalized in Georgia is the clearest step we’ve seen yet. Like other sports leagues, the Tour has embraced sports betting.
“At the current pace, nearly every marquee sports venue in the country will have a sportsbook or sports betting lounge inside or attached to it,” said Lloyd Danzig, managing partner at sports betting investment firm Sharp Alpha Advisors.
Parent company Augusta National Inc., which didn’t respond to requests for comment, will get at least another year to identify potential business opportunities. Sources who worked closely on the legislation say Augusta National representatives didn’t specify any plans it would execute if it indeed obtained a license but quietly wanted to be included in the language of the bill.
The PGA Tour said it will keep working for gambling legalization in Georgia despite the failure of the bill.
“Like in Arizona and Ohio, we were fairly active in the Georgia (legislative) process given that we have multiple PGA Tour stops there,” said Scott Warfield, vice president of gaming for theTour. “Obviously, it didn’t work this session.”
Georgia is one of the nation’s most attractive untapped sports betting markets, with operators pining for the chance to take advantage of low tax rates and a competitive business environment. FanDuel Group announced plans last year to open a new hub in Atlanta, which is the fourth largest DMA that doesn’t currently have legal sports betting.
“Georgia is a key state given the size, scope and the number of sports fans in the state,” said Warfield, who added that market access is just one piece of the Tour’s overall gaming strategy.
Just last month BetParx received mobile sports betting access into Ohio thanks to a partnership with the Memorial Tournament in Dublin. TPC Scottsdale in Arizona is slated to open a DraftKings-operated retail sportsbook next year, in the wake of the state’s passage of a sports betting law last April.
Unlike TPC Scottsdale, the PGA Tour doesn’t operate the privately owned August National and doesn’t run the Masters or the three other major championships. So any duties of carrying out sports betting deals would fall on the home club.
While gambling golf fans could only dream of a sportsbook at Augusta National, sources believe a retail location at the seasonal course is unlikely; betting facilities typically are open year-round and need to be open to the public. However, selling an exclusive Masters betting sponsorship to a vendor and generating a passive income stream is a future possibility.
While the Masters historically has not prioritized revenue-generating opportunities over tradition, Augusta National members, which include Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, are influential businessmen and women. They didn’t get to the top of their industries leaving money on the table, and betting is weaved into the fabric of golf history.
“[Augusta] is conservative but amid that, people gamble on golfing and bet on a constant basis,” LHB Sports, Entertainment & Media Inc. president Lee Berke said. “Skins game didn’t come out of thin air. It’s been around almost as long as they’ve had the game (of golf).”
Although the Georgia betting law failed this time, potential licensees, including Augusta National, will continue to take their swings. The Masters has become more progressive in recent years, and the opportunity to drive fan engagement and grab some extra revenue along the way could be the next noteworthy way the tournament adapts to the times.