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Georgia Sports Betting Passage Could Be Less Complicated In 2024

Written By Matthew Kredell on August 1, 2023
Georgia Sports Betting

One Georgia lawmaker said he believes there’s support for passing sports betting legislation in 2024 if his colleagues can keep it simple.

Efforts to pass Georgia sports betting this year became overly complicated.

Legislators could have passed a bill if they all got on the same page. They just couldn’t agree on one vehicle.

Speaking to PlayUSA at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States conference in Denver last month, Georgia Sen. Bill Cowsert looked ahead to 2024 and the possibility that his colleagues could finally get behind his effort to legalize Georgia sports betting through a constitutional amendment.

“I do think it’s going to simplify things,” Cowsert said. “I think it enhances the likelihood of passage that there will be less incentive to try to work around the constitutional amendment. So I think people will try to sort out their differences and get a coalition together to get the two-thirds vote to get a constitutional amendment through.”

Georgia focus can turn to constitutional amendment

Expanding gambling in Georgia requires amending the state constitution. And that takes a two-thirds vote from each legislative chamber and majority approval from Georgia voters in the next general election.

Cowsert made his first effort at a sports betting constitutional amendment in 2021 and got the bill through the Senate. But after failing in the House that year, Georgia sports betting efforts have backtracked.

This year’s efforts were a mess. While Cowsert pushed for the constitutional amendment again, a House bill contended that sports betting didn’t need a constitutional amendment if run through the lottery. Another Senate faction formed seeking to combine sports betting and fixed-odds horse racing.

The gaming industry backed the House bill. They had nothing to lose by pushing for the option allowing Georgia sports betting to launch in 2023.

But entering 2024, lawmakers and the industry might as well get behind the constitutional amendment. Then voters can resolve the question of Georgia sports betting during the November general election.

Cowsert also wants a constitutional amendment so legislators can dedicate sports betting tax revenue. Otherwise, the state constitution prohibits the legislature from dedicating revenue from tax sources. A constitutional amendment is the only way to earmark sports betting revenues toward problem gaming resources.

“If you have to amend the constitution anyway, you can lay out responsible gaming funding or whatever other causes you need to support to gain votes,” Cowsert said.

Senator discusses why he put GA sports betting bill to vote

Highlighting the dysfunction in 2023, Georgia sports betting legislation twice came to a vote and failed to pass at the crossover deadline.

It’s rare for lawmakers in any state to call legislation for a vote unless they know it will pass.

But the Senate rejected SB 57, combining sports betting with horse betting, by a 19-37 vote. Cowsert’s SR 140 fared better with a 30-26 vote. But to reach the two-thirds threshold it needed 38 votes.

Cowsert explained why he brought his bill to a vote.

“I had hopes it would pass. Nobody knew on any of them. We had all kinds of different whip counts. Some lobbyists were saying you have the votes, and other ones felt differently. I know we had a majority of the Republican caucus or we wouldn’t have put it up. So the question was how many Democrat votes could we get, and we couldn’t get them all.”

Expanding constitutional amendment poses issue

If Georgia lawmakers can agree to pursue a constitutional amendment, the fourth year could be the charm for Georgia sports betting.

But then there’s a debate on what to include in the ballot question. Some lawmakers and gaming lobbyists want to include authorizing brick-and-mortar casinos and horse wagering.

Cowsert doesn’t think it’s wise to expand the constitutional amendment beyond sports betting.

“I’m not opposed to doing casino gaming and horse betting,” Cowsert said. “I just think it’s more likely to pass if we keep it to sports betting.”

Photo by PlayUSA
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew Kredell serves as senior lead writer of legislative affairs involving online gambling at PlayUSA. He began covering efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling in 2007 after federal passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act disrupted his hobby of playing small-stakes online poker. He has since interviewed more than 300 lawmakers around the country and written extensively about online gambling legislation. He has led coverage of bills to legalize online gambling in most states. A lifelong Angeleno and USC journalism alum, Matthew started his career working as a sportswriter for a decade at the Los Angeles Daily News. He has written on a variety of topics for Playboy Magazine, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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