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Georgia Senate Chooses Standalone Sports Betting Constitutional Amendment

Written By Matthew Kredell on February 28, 2024
Georgia Constitutional Amendment Voting

Georgia’s sports betting legalization package is now ready to go with a corresponding constitutional amendment.

The Georgia Senate on Tuesday passed SR579, a constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting, by a vote of 41-12.

When the Senate passed sports betting bill SB386 on Feb. 1, Sen. Bill Cowsert urged his colleagues to add language saying the bill takes effect upon the passage of a constitutional amendment and its ratification by voters.

“I think it’s the politically appropriate thing to do when you make this type of a major policy shift in your state to let the people vote,” Cowsert said. “… This is to give the voters an opportunity to speak on the issue.”

There were multiple resolutions in the Senate, one of which would have combined casino gaming with sports betting. The Senate decided to limit the ballot question that would go in front of voters in November to sports betting.

As a constitutional amendment, the resolution needed two-thirds support to vote or 38 of 56 Georgia senators.

The resolution advanced before Thursday’s crossover deadline for Georgia bills to move from their chamber of origin. Now sports betting enabling and implementation bills are safely in the Georgia House for consideration.

Negotiating revenue disbursement wasn’t difficult

One of the concerns about trying to legalize sports betting under a constitutional amendment was that it opened the debate for how to distribute revenue. And those conversations could get messy.

As introduced, SB386 required sports betting revenue to go through the Georgia Lottery to avoid a constitutional amendment. That limited where revenue could go. Consistent with other lottery-generated revenues in Georgia, 99% needed to go to education.

In introducing his resolution following amending SB386 to require a constitutional amendment, Cowsert heard from his colleagues that Pre-K education funding was a focus.

So he filed SR579 with the following revenue disbursement:

  • 80% into the Educational Opportunity Fund. Revenue from the fund shall prioritize voluntary pre-kindergarten. If those programs are fully funded, it goes to HOPE scholarships.
  • 15% to the Responsible Gaming Fund.
  • 5% toward the Sports Promotion Fund for attracting major regional, national and international sporting events to Georgia. Cowsert said these could include the Olympics, Super Bowl, College Football Playoffs, FIFA World Cup, Final Four NCAA basketball, golf events and car racing events.

That breakdown worked just fine with his Senate colleagues.

“It tracks almost identically with the agreed-upon division of tax revenues that were laid out in the enabling legislation,” Cowsert said. “As you recall, that money went to Pre-K education programs predominantly.”

Although the Sports Betting Alliance, representing some of the largest online sports betting operators, originally opposed a constitutional amendment, it supported the passage. SBA Georgia spokesperson Jen Ryan told PlayUSA:

“The overwhelming passage of SR 579 is another step forward in bringing safe, legal sports betting revenue to Georgia Pre-K students. We applaud the Senate’s leadership and look forward to continue working with legislators in the House and other stakeholders to ensure Georgians have a say in securing the future of Georgia Pre-K.”

Georgia sports betting constitutional amendment wins out

Just the day before the Senate passed SR579, a Senate committee favorably reported SR538, a resolution asking voters to authorize and require the legislature to pass legislation for implementing casino gaming in addition to sports betting.

So the Senate had the option to pass the resolution putting only sports betting in front of voters or including brick-and-mortar casinos. The Senate seems to have chosen the standalone sports wagering resolution.

Sen. Carden Summers, who sponsored the other resolution, gave a concession speech where he supported the passage of SR579 but said he thought his colleagues were doing a disservice to the people of Georgia by not giving them the choice of casino gaming.

“I personally feel that we should have a full measure on the table,” Summers said. “I think we should be voting to remove the prohibition of gaming in the constitution and that’s where we should be. ”

It’s still possible for the Senate to send both resolutions to the House and keep the debate going. Summers’ SR538 got a second reading Tuesday.

Georgia House could still muck things up

The Georgia House hasn’t taken any action on SB386 since the Senate sent it over nearly a month ago.

An optimist might think the House was simply waiting on the Senate to send over the corresponding constitutional amendment. Or that the House wants to get past the crossover deadline before moving on to bills passed by the Senate.

But the Georgia House has a history of not taking action on sports betting legislation passed by the Senate. The Senate passed similar legislation in 2021, giving the House more than an entire session to act.

Back then, the bill seemed to get bogged down in partisan turmoil as Democrats pulled support in the House. There are already reports of similar happenings possibly on the horizon this session.

Georgia’s legislative session ends March 28, giving the Georgia House about a month to determine if members want to put the question of sports betting in front of voters in November.

With lawmakers still trying to approve sports betting, it seems that Georgia online casino legislation isn’t in the cards anytime soon. To keep track of US iGaming legislation, visit our online casino bill tracker.

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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