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How Georgia Sports Betting Moves Forward After Another Failure

PlayUSA spoke with several Georgia lawmakers to find out what happened to doom the Georgia sports betting effort and where it goes from here.

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Photo by John Amis/AP photo
Matthew Kredell Avatar
8 mins read

The Georgia legislative session ended last Thursday with Georgia sports betting legislation stuck in the House Rules Committee.

This marks the second consecutive two-year cycle that the Senate has passed sports betting legislation only for the House to fail to act.

PlayUSA spoke with several Georgia lawmakers to find out what happened to doom the Georgia sports betting effort and where it goes from here.

They all believe this year set the precedent that Georgia sports betting will require a constitutional amendment going forward. Failing to pass the ballot referendum creates a minimum two-year delay for Georgians looking for a legal in-state option to bet on sports.

The next possible time for a constitutional amendment to legalize Georgia sports betting to go in front of voters is November of 2026, which could set up a market launch in mid-2027.

“What really frustrates me about not getting it done this year is that Georgia will be losing out on hundreds of millions in tax revenue, not regulating the industry and not providing protections to people who are doing it right now,” Rep. Marcus Wiedower told PlayUSA. “Over the next two years, the college football playoffs and FIFA World Cup will be coming through Georgia. The amount of revenue we will lose is astounding.”

Georgia sports betting may have had enough House votes

The Georgia Senate passed SB386 on Feb. 1 and followed with the constitutional amendment SR579 on Feb. 27, giving the House plenty of time to work on the issue.

But the House didn’t move the bill from the Higher Education Committee until the morning of the final day of the legislative session. Negotiations to get it out of the Rules Committee failed because there wasn’t majority support among Republicans.

If the bill made it the floor, Wiedower believes it would have passed.

“When relying on whip counts to decide whether or not something comes to the floor, what you’re really whipping is do you want to vote on it rather than how would you vote if you had to vote on it. Those are two different questions. If sports betting with or without a constitutional amendment were put on the House floor, I do believe enough people would have decided to vote for it. Obviously we’ll never know because it wasn’t put on the floor.”

Why Georgia sports betting failed to pass in 2024

Speaking to lawmakers and industry lobbyists, PlayUSA heard four possible reasons the House didn’t bring Georgia sports betting legislation to the floor:

  • There wasn’t enough House Republican support.
  • The House kept the bill on the backburner too long.
  • Democrats pulled their support over funding priorities.
  • Speaker Jon Burns opposed it and wouldn’t bring it to the floor.

Wiedower refutes all four.

Vote counting by lobbyists showed House Republican support for sports betting. However, as Wiedower explained, that doesn’t necessarily mean they wanted it to come to a vote.

Wiedower said it was his choice to hold back the legislation in committee. He didn’t want anyone to tell him they didn’t have a chance to provide input before it advanced. He wants it known that the long period of inaction in the House wasn’t an indication of a lack of effort to pass the bill.

“I worked harder on this measure than almost anything else this year, which is kind of crazy. Everybody knows how hard I worked on this find a middle ground. ”

On the second-to-last day of the session, House Minority Whip Sam Park proposed a committee amendment prioritizing needs-based college scholarships and Pre-K. After the committee did not pick up the amendment, Park told PlayUSA that he would try to negotiate the Democrat funding priorities in Rules.

Wiedower said that created some uncertainty with House Republicans on where Democrats would land. But if he believes it would have passed on the House floor, that means he believes the Democrat votes would have been there.

“I certainly don’t blame the Democrats for this going down. I absolutely think Democrat votes would have been there if it went to the floor. It was all a matter of how many Republicans were we really going to have.”

So that leaves House leadership, which Wiedower also defends. If a majority of the Republican caucus wanted to bring the bill to the floor, Wiedower doesn’t think the Speaker would have blocked it.

“Speaker Burns is good friend and good leader. I 100% think he was being fair along the way. I do believe he got a lot of mixed messaged on where the Democrats really were with this and what we were being told as far as whip count. I don’t fault him at all for not wanting to put a bill on the floor that had a lot of uncertainty.”

House did vote out one gambling expansion bill

The House couldn’t find enough Republican support to bring online sports betting to the floor.

However, the House had no problem passing HB353 to recognize and reform video gaming terminals located at convenience stores around the state. The House had 148 votes for coin-operated amusement machines (COAM) that play like slot machines.

Previously, winnings came in the form of store credit. And the store credit prohibited use on tobacco or alcohol. Now winnings come in the form of a gift card open for statewide use with fewer restrictions. They now can include alcohol and tobacco.

Sen. Bill Cowsert, who failed in arguing against the bill in the Senate, couldn’t explain why the House overwhelmingly passed the COAM bill but wouldn’t touch sports betting.

“I don’t think people in the House recognized what they were voting on because it didn’t go through the normal committee process,” Cowsert said. “They thought they were voting for Pac-Man or other amusement games, not cash payouts on what could very well be equated to slot machines all over the state.”

The COAM language was substituted into the bill during the final week of the session. The bill also increased the COAM tax rate from 10% to 13%, which could generate an additional $40 million in revenue for education.

Wiedower said it wasn’t lost on him that his colleagues supported COAM but not sports betting.

“Don’t think I didn’t pull out the COAM vote and go around to people who were saying no on sports betting but yes on COAM,” Wiedower said. “They didn’t like COAM but saw it as tax revenue for something that already exists. That’s fair on their part, but I’d also say it’s frustrating that they didn’t see sports betting the same way.”

Constitutional amendment path settled

Wiedower introduced Georgia sports betting legislation in 2023 without a constitutional amendment. This year, Sen. Clint Dixon essentially took the Wiedower language and introduced it in the Senate with SB386.

Dixon tried to bring the bill to the Senate floor without a constitutional amendment. But it did not have the Senate Republican votes to pass.

It was only after Cowsert attached a constitutional amendment requirement that the Senate passed SB386 by a vote of 35-15.

“On the bright side, I do think a consensus was reached in the legislature that the appropriate manner in which to handle it is with a constitutional amendment,” Cowsert said. “So we’re narrowing down the issues as time goes on.”

Now that Georgia sports betting has failed in 2024, the industry will be tempted to come back next year pushing to do it without a constitutional amendment. That way, Georgia sports betting could start in 2025 rather than needing to wait for voter approval. And it would have a lower bar to clear in the House with majority support instead of the two-thirds support needed to pass a constitutional amendment.

Georgia lawmakers made it clear not to bother. Next year’s vehicle will have a constitutional amendment.

“If I were a betting man, that’s what I would bet,” Dixon said. “I’m going to talk to Rep. Wiedower and see if there is any appetite for running it like my original proposal, but I think with the number of votes we gained in the Senate when we added it, that would be hard for the Senate to claw that back. I think that’s the route we will have to go.”

Wiedower agreed that a constitutional amendment is the way to go. Any Georgia Republican voting for a sports betting bill receives backlash from a large faith-based community in the state. With the constitutional amendment, they can say that they didn’t vote in favor of sports betting. They voted to let the people decide the issue.

“The constitutional amendment helps pick up Republican votes. There’s no way it doesn’t. By making it a constitutional amendment where voters are deciding, more Republicans are going to be OK with that. That’s just facts.”

How Georgia sports betting effort moves forward

In 2021 and 2024, the Senate passed Georgia sports betting legislation and watched the House fail to move on the issue.

So Cowsert said it’s time for the Senate to sit back and wait to see if the House can act.

“We have spent a lot of time, energy and political capital passing this through the Senate on multiple occasions only to be killed in the House. Going forward, Senate leadership should defer to the House and let the bill start there. It would be unwise for the Senate to continue to take the lead on it without any indication that the House will ever support it. We will wait in the Senate until the House demonstrates they can pass it.”

With it being the first year of a two-year session and the next opportunity to bring a ballot referendum in late 2026, there’s no urgency for either chamber to move next year. But Wiedower said he will get back working on it at the beginning of next session.

“I will be reintroducing this bill come the first Monday of January and see what happens,” Wiedower said. “It’s not going away.”

Wiedower said he believes progress was made in the House in 2024, even if it didn’t look like it.

“There were definitely a few moments that last day where I really thought we were going to get our shot. It just didn’t happen. We will have new leadership from the Democrats next year and I’ve already had conversations with some of those people. We’re bound to work together to get this through to the finish line, whether it’s next year or not.”

Cowsert said it would help if more Georgians expressed to their representatives that they want online sports betting in the interim.

“One thing I have not seen is any loud public outcry or demand from voters that they want sports betting. We as legislators don’t receive many emails or phone calls from sports betting supporters at all. Most of what we receive on this issue is from the faith-based community in opposition. We would like to know if there is any demand for it from citizens.”

Matthew Kredell Avatar
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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 and has interviewed more than 300 state lawmakers around the country.

View all posts by 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 and has interviewed more than 300 state lawmakers around the country.

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