Revived Georgia Sports Betting Bill OK'd By Senate Committee

Revived Georgia Sports Betting Bill OK'd By Senate Committee
© USA Today

An effort to bring sports betting to Georgia has been revived.

The renewed attempt gained momentum Friday when the Senate Special Judiciary Committee approved a bill authorizing the Georgia Lottery to operate online sports betting, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The tax revenue would be earmarked for the state’s HOPE scholarship, the paper reported.

RELATED: More on Georgia Gaming & Gambling Legislation

It would be an untethered market since there are no commercial casinos in Georgia.

Previous bills have died in the legislature, including Senate Bill 403 in March. But with the state facing budget deficits from the coronavirus, the sports betting legislation was added to House Bill 903, which concerns motor vehicle tickets, according to the story in The Journal Constitution.

With Friday’s approval, it moves to the full Senate.

Sen. Burt Jones, a Republican behind the previous attempt, is leading the new effort. The earlier Senate bill let bettors place wagers on professional and college sports in the fully mobile market.

Last fall, Georgia lawmakers convened a study group to research how to implement casino gaming, sports betting and pari-mutuel horse racing as a way to generate revenue for the state budget. That was well before the coronavirus pandemic struck.

Pro Teams Have Supported Sports Betting

The state’s professional sports franchises — the Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta United — in March supported legalizing sports betting and Steve Koonin, Hawks CEO, on Friday backed the new effort.

“During this difficult time for our professional sports teams, maintaining and building our engagement and relationship with fans is absolutely critical,” Koonin said in a statement, according to The Journal Constitution.

The HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) scholarship is a merit-based award available to Georgia residents who have demonstrated academic achievement, according to the state’s government website. It is funded by the Georgia Lottery for Education.

One question that likely still needs to be answered is whether Georgia’s constitution would have to be amended to allow the practice. Jones said in March before his legislation died that he believes the General Assembly can legalize sports betting without a constitutional change, according to the Associated Press.

Having the lottery oversee sports betting or by making it a ballot referendum, like it will be in South Dakota, Maryland and Louisiana, might be ways to avoid the constitutional question.

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