Despite multiple legalization attempts in the past few years, industry stakeholders believe Georgia sports betting faces headwinds too strong to overcome in 2024.
After a House bill fell short in the Senate last year, legislators are lining up bills to legalize Georgia sports betting in 2024. Despite the planned legislation, industry sources are aligned that divisive Georgia politics will once again derail any sports betting legislation.
“I don’t think [online sports betting] passes this year,” one industry source said. “[There] is too much of a divide between the Black Caucus and remaining Dems, and without a big block of Dems, it doesn’t get out of the House.”
What is lining up for GA sports betting
During a Joint Committees on Economic Development and Tourism meeting last month, Sen. Brandon Beach said he would introduce comprehensive gaming legislation when the session gaveled in Monday. If successful, Beach’s bill would put the issue up for voters to amend the state Constitution, a necessary step in Georgia.
The proposal would include casinos, sports betting and pari-mutuel wagering. Beach said the gaming could generate up to $900 million yearly for the state. His proposal establishes a gaming commission within the Georgia Lottery.
“I’m all for sports betting, but I will tell you from an economic development [and] job creation standpoint, sports betting is done through this,” Beach said. “From a job creation standpoint, if we would have three destination resort casinos and one pari-mutuel track or maybe two, we would create a lot of jobs.”
However, an industry source said the 2024 election has caused most lawmakers to be wary of the divisive issue.
What happened to Georgia sports betting in 2023
Sports betting bills in both the House and Senate failed to emerge from their chambers of origin by the crossover deadline. Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, however, was behind an effort that resurrected the issue by influencing a Senate committee to insert sports betting language into an unrelated House bill declaring an official Georgia soap box derby.
At the time, Sen. Mike Dugan said the backdoor maneuver would set Georgia sports betting back five years. The bill never received a vote from the full Senate.
Because of conservatives opposed to gambling, Republicans did not have the votes to pass the issue on its own. Otherwise supportive Democrats, meanwhile, aligned with their caucus to protest the legislation after the legislature passed a bill limiting healthcare treatments for transgender children.
Similarly divisive issues like voter rights derailed GA sports betting attempts in previous years.
Optimism still exists in Georgia
One source split from others and believes there is an opportunity for sports betting in the Peach State.
“The clock just ran out last year,” the source said. “You definitely can see a path for a bipartisan agreement. There’s an interesting bipartisan coalition between those who are interested in funding Pre-K and folks who are very committed to, frankly, Republican primary voters who are interested in SEC football and betting on sports.”
Fundamental split in Georgia
Before the crossover deadline, multiple bills in both chambers could have legalized sports betting. However, along with the political party split, there is an issue between sports betting proponents.
Some lawmakers believe sports betting fits under the purview of the Georgia Lottery. Other legislators believe any gaming expansion requires an amendment to the state Constitution, which also needs voter approval.
Former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton said earlier this year gaming expansion does not need a constitutional amendment. But until there is a unified opinion on the issue, legalizing sports betting in Georgia could be tough sledding.
“The stars need to align perfectly for Georgia to pass in 2024,” one industry source said.