Georgia lawmakers had three chances to advance Georgia sports betting legislation and came up empty.
Monday was the final day for Georgia legislation to cross over from one chamber to another. The Senate swung and missed with two failed votes Friday and Monday, then the House took a called strike three when leadership declined to call its bill to the floor before the midnight deadline.
With the 2023 failure, lawmakers appear to have made their decision regarding whether or not Georgia sports betting will require a constitutional amendment. It will.
Rep. Ron Stephens told PlayUSA that the House decided to hold the bill over until next year rather than try to push for Georgia sports betting through statute.
“There is a feeling that we need to have the public vote on the matter,” Stephens said.
Industry attempt at 2023 passage fizzles
The past two years, lawmakers considered Georgia sports betting legislation with a constitutional amendment.
The only legal gambling in Georgia is through the Georgia Lottery Corporation. Expanding to casinos or parimutuel wagering would require a constitutional amendment approved by Georgia voters.
Georgia sports teams, national sportsbook operators and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce made a play to bypass the constitutional amendment. Bolstered by an opinion from former state Supreme Court Justice Harold Melton, they offered HB 380 authorizing 16 online sports betting licenses under the Georgia Lottery.
Stephens and bill sponsor Rep. Marcus Wiedower were optimistic about the bill’s passage when it advanced from committee.
Once Georgia lawmakers decided they wanted to go the constitutional amendment route, there was no need to rush the bill through this year. The constitutional amendment can’t go in front of voters until November of 2024.
Senate rejects Georgia sports betting proposal
The Senate had the chance to pass Georgia sports betting legislation with a constitutional amendment earlier in the day.
But it voted 30-26 to reject SR 140. As a constitutional amendment, it required a two-thirds vote, or 38 members of the Senate in support. The failure of SR 140 rendered useless the implementation bill SB 172.
“I don’t get why it’s wrong to let the people of Georgia vote on this issue,” sponsor Sen. Bill Cowsert said on the floor. “We’re not little mini-dictators up here dictating what the policy will always be.”
In 2021, the Senate did pass a sports betting proposal with a constitutional amendment authored by Cowsert in committee. The House had the rest of that session and all of 2022 to bring it to a vote but never did.
This proposal from Cowsert differed in that it put 50% of tax revenue toward needs-based scholarships. Cowsert made an impassioned plea for his colleagues to create this additional revenue stream of $25 million to go to Georgians without the financial means to go to college.
“So I ask you, just let the people decide,” Cowsert said. “Have a heart. Let kids that can’t afford to go to college or technical school have a chance. And if you’re morally opposed to gambling, I respect you. Vote no. It’s OK. It might not be a good thing. And that’s why there’s so many protections in the enabling legislation, if we go down this path let’s be careful, let’s educate people on the potential pitfalls of getting addicted to this.”
The Senate defeated SB 57 last Friday by a 19-37 vote. That bill would have legalized sports betting without a constitutional amendment. But its inclusion of fixed-odds horse wagering proved unpopular.
Georgians will have to go without sports wagering
With this year’s failure, Georgians probably can’t get legal sports betting until late 2025 or 2026.
If a bill does pass next year and get approval from voters in November, it figures to take a while to set up rules, regulations and licensing.
Since Georgia doesn’t have gambling outside the lottery, Cowsert’s bill created the Georgia Gaming Corporation under which the Georgia Sports Betting Commission would regulate the activity. It would take time to get those bodies up and running.
According to sports betting data from GeoComply, there were 1.4 million attempts from Georgia to access legal sportsbooks in other markets during the NFL season, mainly in neighboring Tennessee. These attempts came from 128,000 unique player accounts.