Georgia Sports Betting Bills Advance, Full House Vote Next

Georgia Sports Betting Bills Advance, Full House Vote Next
© USA Today

Online sports betting in Georgia continues toward a statewide vote with a full House vote expected on a pair of gambling-related proposals as soon as Thursday.

A House committee passed two bills on Tuesday that the Senate had approved. One would allow a vote on a Constitutional amendment to permit gambling in Georgia. Another outlined the process and details of how sports betting would operate in the Peach State.

The Constitutional amendment to allow gambling would need a two-thirds vote of approval in the House. It passed the Senate, 41-10, three more than the two-thirds vote necessary.

If these bills are approved by the full House before the legislature adjourns on April 2, the next major step toward legalized sports betting in Georgia will be a statewide referendum in November 2022. That means there will likely be no legalized sports betting in Georgia before Jan. 1, 2023.

Differences Center On Collegiate Sports, Online Only

There are differences between the overall gambling bill in the Senate and that version that cleared the House Committee for Economic Development & Tourism. Chief among them is that the House did not allow gambling on any college sports. The Senate-approved bill prohibited gambling only on college events featuring schools from Georgia.

The House limited sports betting to online only, while the Senate bill allowed for onsite betting kiosks at various venues.

The tax rate on the net proceeds from gambling for the state and how that revenue would be distributed also differ between the two bodies. Under the version of the bill under discussion in the House, 20% of those net revenues would go to the state, up from 16% under the Senate bill.

The rest of the differences center mainly on how the money would be spent between HOPE Scholarships, pre-K education, need-based scholarships, rural broadband development, mental health services in underserved areas and money to attract major sporting events to the state. The percentages set aside for those concerns are locked into the constitutional amendment proposal in the House.

The Senate bill calls for sports betting in Georgia to be regulated and managed by the Georgia Lottery Corp. Sportsbooks would pay a non-refundable application fee and annual licensing fees, in addition to the tax on revenue. Only those 21 and over would be allowed to wager.

A Late Push For Horse Racing

The drive for sports betting in Georgia enjoys the support of all the major-league professional franchises in the state. A push this week to include horse racing in the gambling proposal appeared in the form of an op-ed piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“If we can bet on the Hawks or Falcons, why not horses?” argued Dean Reeves and Carl Bouckaert of the Georgia Horse Racing Association in pushing for a 60-day racing season. “Georgia can create a billion-dollar industry with no state support, tax credits, state subsidies or other economic development incentives.”

Backers of legal sports betting in Georgia have continually stressed the reality of illegal and offshore gambling and have claimed more than 2 million people engage in the practice already in Georgia.

“We’re not creating something new,” Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, the House committee’s chairman, said after Tuesday’s committee vote, according to the Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune. “If we make it legal, we’ll get revenue out of it.”

The bills approved by the Senate are SB 142, which outline how sports betting would operate in Georgia and SR 135, which allows for a statewide referendum on sports betting in November 2022.