Georgia sports betting legislation gained approval in the Senate on Thursday, though not quite as planned by proponents.
The bill brought to the Senate floor, backed by sports betting companies and Georgia sports entities, proposed operating Georgia sports wagering under the lottery so as not to require a constitutional amendment.
Before passing Sen. Clint Dixon’s SB 386 by a vote of 35-15, the Senate voted 34-7 to adopt an amendment requiring that voters approve a constitutional amendment for Georgia to move forward with sports betting.
Georgia sports betting still needs approval in the House and from Gov. Brian Kemp, who supported the Senate effort. To enable the legislation, the Senate also will need to pass a resolution with the ballot question requiring a two-thirds passage in the legislature.
Georgia sports betting would go to voters
Sen. Bill Cowsert offered the amendment to require the constitutional amendment for SB 386 to take effect.
He argued that sports betting was illegal when Georgia voters approved the lottery in 1993.
“It’s really sneaky to try and circumvent the voters of the state of Georgia,” Cowsert said. “I don’t understand why we would want to do that.”
He added that lottery revenue is required to go to education. Through a constitutional amendment, legislators can ensure that a percentage of revenue goes toward funding problem gaming services.
Lastly, he contended going around voters to approve sports betting will result in legal challenges.
Wednesday, Sen. Carden Summers introduced a SR 538, which seeks a constitutional change to legalize sports betting and brick-and-mortar casinos. There is likely to be a standalone sports betting resolution created. But SR 538 does have support from eight of the senators who voted for the sports betting bill.
Details of Georgia sports betting bill passed by Senate
Key details of SB 386, as passed by the Senate, include:
- Limits sports betting to online only with no physical presence.
- Creates the potential for 16 sports betting apps, seven standalone licenses for online sports betting operators that would pay a $100,000 initial application fee and an annual renewal fee of $1 million.
- Sets the tax rate for operators at 20%.
- Eight licenses are tethered to the following Georgia professional sports entities: Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Dream (WNBA), Atlanta United FC, Augusta National, PGA Tour and NASCAR. Each sports entity gets one sports wagering skin.
- The Georgia Lottery Corp. also would have the opportunity to offer its own sports wagering app.
- Prohibits the use of credit cards to fund online sports betting accounts.
- Includes language encouraging participation by minority-led companies.
Amendment to cut out sports teams fails
Sen. John Albers offered the only other amendment on the floor. His amendment would have prohibited the eight Georgia sports teams and entities from holding sports betting licenses.
The amendment read:
“A Type 1 eligible entity shall not receive any proceeds or revenue derived from any wagers accepted by such online sports betting services provider.”
Albers contended that his amendment addressed ethics in sports. He doesn’t want teams to profit from betting outcomes on their games, arguing it could lead to them running up the score to increase profits.
Sen. Jason Esteves countered:
“Georgia must do what it can in this bill to support those organizations that have invested heavily in us. And I understand that there are concerns about ethics in sports. But those concerns have been around for many years and they are almost exclusively tied to players. For many of the most famous examples, those occurred prior to states regulating this industry. There are no examples of teams rigging the system to gain more profit. In fact, when you carry that logic out, it doesn’t make much sense for teams to do that.”
The proposed amendment failed by a vote of 10-39.
Revenue for education lauded by senators
Sports betting operators have presented online sports betting as a way to add $140 million annually to education funding done by the lottery. The argument resonated with Georgia senators.
Particularly, Georgia lawmakers have prioritized improvements for Pre-K education this session.
Senate Minority Leader Georgia Butler said that sports betting revenue could help Georgia fulfill a 33-year-old promise to fully fund universal Pre-K. About 3,000 Georgia children are on waitlists for Pre-K.
Sen. Derek Mallow preached:
“We know that the earlier a child learns how to read, the better chance they have for success. … Kids are on the lottery for Pre-K right now and I promise you, without this bill, those kids won’t come off the lottery for Pre-K. So if you’re serious about education and opportunity, you’d be serious about this bill so kids will have an opportunity. … All I’m asking you to do is do the right thing for kids in this state. A vote for this bill is a vote for kids.”
House prospects for Georgia sports betting
This is the second time the Georgia Senate has passed a sports betting bill on to the House.
Late in the 2021 session, the Georgia Senate passed Cowsert’s sports betting legislation requiring a constitutional amendment. The House had all of the 2022 session to take action on the legislation but never brought it to a vote.
Rep. Ron Stephens, who has often led sports betting efforts in the House, told PlayUSA he believes this year will be different.
“We need to go ahead and move on this. Two-thirds of the country is doing some form of sports betting. We’ve been talking about this stuff too long. My grandmother used to tell me, it’s either time to pee or get off the pot. I think a whole bunch of us in the House think it’s time to do this.”