Why The Georgia Sports Betting Bill Without Constitutional Amendment Gained Industry Support

Written By Matthew Kredell on January 29, 2024
Atlanta Falcons football sports betting

Sports betting operators are preparing for their strongest push yet to legalize sports wagering in Georgia.

Sen. Clint Dixon has introduced an industry-backed sports betting bill with an impressive bipartisan group of 11 co-sponsors.

Jen Ryan, the Georgia-based spokeswoman for the Sports Betting Alliance, explained to PlayUSA:

“I think the key difference this year is that, after working on this for six years, we have built a coalition with a bipartisan group of legislators and diverse group of stakeholders. Everyone is rowing in the same direction and you can feel the difference. The momentum is strong right out of the gate.”

However, in again pushing for legislation to do sports betting under the lottery without a constitutional amendment, the industry continues to split into three factions in the Georgia legislature that support sports betting but don’t agree on how to get it done.

In doing so, the industry risks losing lawmakers who prefer to put the issue in front of voters.

What’s in industry-backed Georgia sports betting bill

Dixon’s SB 386 has the same language the industry pushed last year. Key details include:

  • Limits sports betting to online only with no physical presence.
  • Creates the potential for 16 sports betting apps, eight for professional sports teams and venues, seven standalone licenses for online sports betting operators and one for the the Georgia Lottery.
  • Sets a 15% tax rate.
  • Licensees pay a $100,000 initial application fee and an annual renewal fee of $1 million.

What’s different is an impressive group of bipartisan backers. Particularly key are Sen. Bo Hatchett, one of Gov. Brian Kemp’s floor leaders, and Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler.

Atlanta sports teams and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce also join the sports betting operators in supporting the bill.

PlayUSA heard, and it was reported by the Atlantic Journal Constitution, that Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who leads the Senate, supports the effort and asked Dixon to take charge of the bill.

Revenue could support legislative priority on early childhood education

Georgia lottery revenue funds HOPE Scholarships and Pre-K education in Georgia.

Last year, House Speaker Jon Burns created a working group, led by Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, to examine how to improve early childhood education.

Five House members produced a report with recommendations for improving Pre-K education in Georgia. Implementing those recommendations would cost about $100 million.

Proponents plan to pitch online sports betting revenue as the perfect way to fund those Pre-K improvements.

“The legislature is taking a serious look at a report last week from the speaker pro tem aiming to strengthen Georgia Pre-K, teacher recruitment and retention,” Ryan said. “It comes out to about $100 million. With sports betting legislation, done through the Georgia Lottery, we believe we can easily bring in $140 million annually to Georgia Pre-K.”

The $140 million revenue projection from the SBA is based on mobile sports betting revenue in other states adjusted by the 11 million population of Georgia, making it the eighth-largest state in the US.

Improving early childhood education doesn’t necessarily require online sports betting revenue. They can come from lottery reserves, which are at a record high. However, online sports betting revenue could help ensure that Pre-K funding is available going forward.

Ryan explained:

“What the lottery did in keeping the best and brightest in the state through the nationally renowned HOPE Scholarship program, we can do for Georgia Pre-K through sports betting revenue.”

Division continues in Georgia sports betting push

There was a thought that sports betting efforts could be less complicated in Georgia this session with everyone falling behind the constitutional amendment route in an election year. But that won’t happen.

Standalone sports betting legislation requiring a constitutional amendment already advanced in the Georgia Senate. Sen. Bill Cowsert passed SB 172 through the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee during the second day of the legislative session.

Cowsert’s constitutional amendment is the only sports betting bill to have success in Georgia so far. It passed the Senate in 2021. For some religious Georgia legislators, it’s easier to vote for allowing their constituents to decide whether they support sports betting than it is to say they support a gambling expansion.

“From my legal analysis, I agree with a version that this requires a constitutional amendment,” Cowsert said at the hearing earlier this session. “I just think it’s a real stretch to call sports betting a lottery game when that certainly was not a case at the time when we created our constitutional exception to allow lotteries.”

Last year, The House did favor the industry bill but never brought it to a vote. Proponents came armed with an opinion from former Georgia Supreme Court Justice Harold Melton that legalizing sports betting wouldn’t require a constitutional amendment if conducted under the lottery.

“Based on the judicial opinion and the fact that a constitutional amendment takes longer and requires a two-thirds vote, it would frankly be unnecessary,” Ryan said of a referendum. “The will of the legislature seems amenable to doing something just with sports betting and doing it this session rather than waiting to put it on the ballot. It’s more effective and efficient, and it gets the revenue to Georgia Pre-K faster.”

Photo by Danny Karnik/AP photo
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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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