Georgia Sports Betting Hopes Sit In Soap Box Derby Bill As Last Week Of Session Nears

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Georgia sports betting

Georgia sports betting hopes were dead at one point this year, but attempts were revived and legislation is alive heading into the final days of the legislative session.

Initially, Senate and House bills failed to meet the deadline to crossover to the other chamber earlier this month. Proponents, however, were eager to keep pushing GA sports betting and last week gutted a soap box derby bill and replaced it with sports betting language

That bill, HB 237, is on the Senate calendar Monday. This week, Senators also introduced a new Senate Resolution, SR 394, to create a committee to study the Georgia gaming ecosystem. The session ends Wednesday.

Study for Georgia sports betting?

The Senate Resolution officially would create the “Study Committee on the Creation of a Robust Wagering Ecosystem in the State of Georgia.” Among its sponsors are Sen. Carden Summers and Sen. Bill Cowsert, who were sponsors on one of the original sports betting bills that failed to crossover.

The study would address some outstanding questions about Georgia sports betting, mainly whether a public vote to amend the state constitution is needed to legalize the industry. Cowsert and Summers are among the cohort in the Georgia legislature that believes a constitutional amendment is required.

The study committee would hold at least four public hearings. There is a Dec. 1 deadline to present its findings and recommendations.

Proponents of efforts that do not include an amendment place sports betting under the Georgia Lottery Corp. and do not violate a ban on casinos or pari-mutuel betting. Former state Supreme Court Justice Harold Melton opined earlier this year that the method is legal.

Georgia sports betting bill in Senate

On March 16, the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee amended HB 237 to include language about sports betting. The original bill declared the Southeast Soap Box Derby as the state’s official soap box derby.

If passed, the legislation would legalize sports betting without amending the state constitution. The House had a similar bill earlier this session, which was supported by professional sports teams in Georgia. It did not receive a floor vote on the deadline day to advance to the Senate.

If HB 237 passes the Senate, it would need House approval before March 29, the last day of the session. Gov. Brian Kemp has signaled he is open to signing a sports betting bill.

Details of revived GA sportsbook bill

The bill would create 16 online sports licenses, including one for the Georgia Lottery, as well: 

The proposal sets the tax rate at 22%. 

Does GA sports betting have a shot this year? 

The late Senate committee move is supported by Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, according to comments from Sen. Brandon Beach. According to an industry source, the fact it is on the Senate floor following the maneuver suggests the votes are there to advance out of the chamber. 

Despite initially not calling a sports betting bill up for a vote, House Speaker Jon Burns said last week the issue might not be dead this year in his chamber.

However, the effort is not without criticism. Sen. Mike Dugan said during the committee that the move to replace the soap box derby bill “set sports betting back five years.” Dugan is also a sponsor of the resolution to create a study committee.

Georgia study true path forward? 

If the legalization effort fails, the study could still pass. Its findings could potentially clear up some of the fog preventing legal Georgia sports betting from becoming reality. 

“I think we have complicated the gaming issue in Georgia for the last four-to-five years,” Summers told PlayUSA this week. “It’s been way too complicated. I think what we need is a simple study on what the gaming industry will do to Georgia – the harms, the good, the jobs it will bring in and what’s recommended before we move forward. I just want to make sure we quit monkeying around.”