Renewed Georgia Sports Betting Push Appears In Soap Box Derby Bill

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Georgia sports betting

Just when it appeared hopes of legalized Georgia sports betting were dead for the year, an effort is back from the ashes.

The Georgia Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee inserted GA sports betting language into an unrelated bill and advanced it, 8-1, Thursday. The legislation could see a floor vote next week, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The move comes after Georgia House Speaker Jon Burns spoke at an Atlanta Press Club luncheon this week and hinted a GA sports betting bill could still pass this year. Bills in the House and Senate failed to advance on crossover day between chambers last week, suggesting GA sports betting was dead this year.

“We have a 40-day session last time I checked, and we’re going to have a 40-day session this year,” Burns said, per the AJC: “We don’t close the door on anything. We’re going to continue to talk.”

New sports betting effort in Georgia

The new effort is now HB 237. The new language is not yet available publicly.

If similar to SB 57 and HB 380, there will be nine named licenses in Georgia. The sports betting bill would run licenses through the Georgia Lottery.

The proposed tax rate on GA sports betting is 22%

Georgia committee vice chair not pleased 

The committee’s vice chairman, Sen. Mike Dugan, blasted the new language. Dugan did not vote, as he left for another committee meeting, leaving Sen. Sam Watson as the lone vote against the bill.

“Whoever came up with this idea set sports betting back five years,” Dugan said. “When you hijack a soapbox derby and put sports betting on the back of it, every person who was on the fence in the state of Georgia has just now picked a side of the fence. 

“I can’t support this. Y’all can vote this out of committee; it will not pass on the floor. And the damage you have just done to the sports betting industry is unfathomable to me.”

Does Georgia sports betting still have a shot? 

On crossover day, the House did not call HB 380 up for a vote, and Burns said, “this year was not the right time for it in the House.” However, comments during Thursday’s committee meeting revealed that Lt. Gov. Burt Jones is pushing the issue.

“I want to thank him for his leadership on this,” Chairman Sen. Brandon Beach said during the meeting.

Jones and Gov. Brian Kemp supported sports betting during their reelection campaign last year. With Jones behind the effort, there could be a shot in the Senate, according to an industry source.

“I don’t think they’d kick out of committee if they didn’t have floor votes,” the industry source said, adding the House could be a different issue.

Failed 2023 Georgia efforts

Along with the House bill, two prior Senate sports betting efforts failed this year, including SB 57, which also legalized horse racing betting. Another bill offering a constitutional amendment, SB 172, to expand gaming failed to attract two-thirds of the Senate votes needed for the action.

Still, the amendment legislation received a majority of the chamber, suggesting a non-amendment proposal could pass the Senate. The need for an amendment to expand gaming is a conflict for Georgia legislators. Some legislators believe if sports betting runs through the Georgia Lottery, it would not be an expansion to gaming in the state.

HB 380 did not include an amendment and was not called for a vote on the House floor. An industry source suggested Burns, a new speaker, got cold feet without party unanimity behind GA sports betting.