Both chambers of the Georgia legislature are priming to pass Georgia sports betting legislation as soon as today.
While the support is there for Georgia sports betting, the question is whether the chambers can work out the details.
Three Georgia sports betting proposals have advanced through committee to be ready for floor consideration.
The biggest point of contention is whether or not legalizing sports betting requires a constitutional amendment. The House thinks it doesn’t.
The Senate rejected SB 57, its sports betting bill without a constitutional amendment, by a 19-37 vote Thursday. That opens the possibility for the Senate to take up SB 172 and SR 140 on Monday.
House lawmakers told PlayUSA their bill without a constitutional amendment will be on a supplemental calendar Monday. Monday is the Georgia deadline for bills to cross over from one chamber to the other.
The three Georgia sports betting proposals
SB 172/SR 140
Sen. Bill Cowsert chairs the Senate Regulated Industries & Utilities Committee that handles sports betting legislation.
After reworking sports betting legislation in his committee in 2021, has invested his time into researching the issue. This includes attending the National Legislators from Gaming States conference in Las Vegas last December.
His constitutional amendment has 10 co-sponsors, more than any other Georgia sports betting bill. One advantage of the constitutional amendment is that, while the other bills are limited to putting tax revenue toward merit-based HOPE Scholarships and Pre-K education under the lottery, Cowsert’s proposal can set other destinations for revenue.
Details of both pieces of legislation combined include:
- At least six untethered online sports betting licenses costing $1 million annually.
- A Georgia Lottery Corporation sports betting app.
- Creates the Georgia Gaming Corporation under which the Georgia Sports Betting Commission will regulate the activity. If Georgia legalizes casinos and parimutuel wagering in the future, commissions to regulate those industries could fall under the Corporation.
- Retail sports betting kiosks through the lottery.
- A tiered tax rate of 25% on more profitable parlay bets, prop bets and live bets, then 20% on regular wagers.
- Allows college sports betting but prohibits prop bets on college players.
- As a compulsive gambling precaution, bettors are limited to depositing $2,000/month. Georgians wanting to bet more can seek clearance to do so from the Georgia Gaming Corporation by showing they can afford it.
- 50% of tax revenue goes toward needs-based scholarships to colleges and technical schools, 25% to economic development, healthcare and mental health in rural areas, 15% to problem gambling treatment, 5% to bringing major sporting events to the state and 5% toward innovative educational services and programs.
Sen. Billy Hickman made waves by sponsoring a Geoorgia Senate sports betting bill without a constitutional amendment and got nine co-sponsors.
The state constitution prohibits casino and parimutuel gaming but has a specific carveout for the lottery. So by running Georgia sports betting through the lottery, proponents argue it doesn’t need a constitutional amendment.
The bill advanced through the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee more than a week ago.
- Allows up to 18 online sports betting licenses, half for sports entities and half free-floating.
- Online sports betting licensees pay $1 million annually along with a nonrefundable $100,000 application fee.
- Allows bars, restaurants and lottery retailers to offer a maximum of two sports betting kiosks.
- Between five and 10 retail sports betting distributors pay $100,000 annually to offer the self-service or clerk-operator betting kiosks.
- Taxes both retail and online sports betting at a 20% rate.
- Allows for fixed-odds wagering at up to three Georgia horse racetracks.
Offered by Rep. Marcus Wiedower with five co-sponsors, HB 480 advanced through the House Higher Education Committee on Monday with significant changes.
The committee increased the tax rate and made licenses more expensive for operators who want to offer online sports betting without a physical partner and less expensive for operators that partner with a Georgia sports team.
Here’s how the bill looks as it heads to the floor:
- 16 online sports betting licenses, eight tethered to Georgia sports organizations, one through the Georgia Lottery Corporation and seven untethered.
- Untethered licensees pay $1.5 million annually, tethered licensees $750,000. Each pays a non-refundable $100,000 application fee.
- Tax rate of 25% (up from 15%).
- The Georgia Lottery Corporation also serves as regulator.
Has Georgia Senate decided on constitutional amendment?
In 2021, the Senate passed a sports wagering bill and constitutional amendment resolution with substitute language authored by Cowsert in committee.
But Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who currently leads the Senate, has said he doesn’t believe a constitutional amendment is necessary. And the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce obtained an opinion from former state Supreme Court Justice Harold Melton backing up that claim.
But sources indicate Thursday’s failure of SB 57 may be more related to the fixed-odds horse racing aspect than the constitutional amendment.
Cowsert put the most time and effort into fully developing mechanisms to prevent and treat problem gambling.
At a committee hearing last week, problem gambling expert Brianne Doura Schawohl pointed out that Cowsert’s proposal is the only one that addresses funding for the issue in Georgia.
“I would like to applaud you for these efforts as there are several bills being discussed in both chambers around the legalization of sports wagering. … Your bill is the only one with any funding mechanism to appropriately address this important public health issue.”
But SB 57 only needed to pass by a simple majority while SR 140 needs to pass by a two-thirds vote. That’s 37 votes , which means it would need 18 more yes votes than SB 57 received. A constitutional amendment also would need to go in front of voters in November 2024, delaying the start of legal Georgia sports betting.
The Senate could just wait for HB 380, a cleaner bill without horse racing, to cross over if it wants to do Georgia sports betting without a constitutional amendment. Georgia’s legislative session runs through March 29.