Georgia sports betting legislation got a lot of action this year. But none of it happened on the final day of the session.
The Georgia legislative session ended late Wednesday without addressing sports wagering.
It’s the third year in a row that Georgia sports betting legislation has generated hope only to fizzle at the end of the session.
“I’m at a loss,” Rep. Ron Stephens told PlayUSA. “I’ve been working on this for years. It will take us losing revenue to fund education, which is coming.”
Democrats play political games with Georgia sports betting
For the second time in three years, Georgia Democrats pulled their support of sports wagering at the end of the session.
Greg Bluestein of the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that Senate Democrats decided to oppose the bill as a bloc. Many Democrats previously supported Georgia sports betting. Their opposition came as protest of the Republican majority’s passage of a bill banning gender-affirming surgeries and care for transgender minors.
Georgia sports betting efforts came to a similar conclusion in 2021, when Democrats pulled support to protest a bill with voter restrictions.
But even if Democrats maintained their support the circumstances surrounding Georgia sports wagering seemed too controversial for it to pass this year.
Georgia sports wagering had to be revived after failing to cross over in either chamber. Sen. Brandon Beach indicated that Lt. Gov. Burt Jones supported his effort to attach sports wagering to HB 237. The bill was previously meant to promote a kids’ soap box derby.
But the maneuver drew immediate backlash from Sen. Mike Dugan who said that it set Georgia sports wagering efforts back five years.
Dugan joined four other Senators in proposing a senate study committee on gaming last week. Senate Resolution 394 also didn’t get called for a vote. But the study committee could have ended up delaying Georgia sports wagering even longer.
Georgia leads way in failed sports wagering votes
Georgia once had three sports betting bills.
The House offered HB 380 to do sports betting through the state lottery without a constitutional amendment. Georgia sports teams and the national sportsbook industry supported this bill. But it never got called for a vote.
The Senate also offered SB 57 without a constitutional amendment. But it also included controversial fixed-odds horse betting.
And then Sen. Bill Cowsert backed Georgia sports betting legislation with a constitutional amendment.
Sports wagering bills don’t get voted down in many states. If the votes aren’t there, leadership simply doesn’t call the bills on the floor. But SB 57 (19-37) and Cowsert’s SR 140 (30-26, needing a two-thirds constitutional majority) did get no votes.
Next year less complicated for Georgia sports betting
Stephens said he thinks next year could be less complicated because legislators can stop the debate on whether Georgia sports wagering requires a constitutional amendment.
There will be an election next November. It makes sense for lawmakers to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot along with passing an implementation bill and let voters decide.
Stephens thinks there’s support to legalize Georgia sports betting if only everyone got on the same page about how to do it.
Lawmakers will still differ on whether to run sports wagering in its own ballot question or include legalization of casinos and pari-mutuel wagering.