Senate Approves Georgia Sports Betting Bill, With A Catch

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Georgia sports betting

Georgia sports betting proponents in the state Senate made quick work of the issue this session, giving the House plenty of time to work out any problems.

Lawmakers advanced Senate Bill 386, 35-15, to the House Thursday. Sen. Clint Dixon‘s proposal legalizes Georgia sports betting through the Georgia Lottery. While passage was fairly smooth, the bill did receive one major amendment Thursday: the need for a constitutional amendment approved by voters in November.

“This is purely a sports betting bill, no other wagering,” Dixon said on the floor, highlighting its bipartisan support. “Quite frankly, this is already happening illegally with no guidelines, no parameters. This would create those regulations to protect bettors and generate just over $100 million [in taxes for educational purposes.]”

While the Senate expedited the legislation, industry sources are not sure the House journey will be as smooth. The legislative session runs through March 28.

Georgia sports betting legislation in Senate

The Senate bill creates 16 licenses, including eight tethered to professional sports organizations. There are also seven standalone licenses and one connected to the Georgia Lottery.

Each license could partner with one online sportsbook operator. The bill carries a 20% tax on sports betting revenue.

Dixon said because his proposal would be regulated by, and send money to, the Georgia Lottery, it does not need an amendment.

Bill now needs constitutional amendment

Despite Dixon’s thoughts, Sen. Bill Cowsert introduced an amendment that would tie the bill to a constitutional amendment. Cowsert argues the voters in 1993 who legalized the Georgia Lottery did not weigh in on sports betting. He said without a constitutional amendment, the law would risk being struck down in court.

The Senate approved the amendment 34-7. Cowsert had introduced a bill this session that legalizes sports betting with a constitutional amendment.

Lawmakers voted down Sen. John Albers‘s amendment that created a “line of demarcation” to keep teams from profiting directly from sports bets.

How House differs in Georgia

The Republican Dixon introduced the legislation last week with a large group of bipartisan sponsors. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler and Minority Whip Harold Jones II spoke Thursday in support of the revenue source for education.

One source suggested the quick Senate timeline is to give the House time to work out their questions on the topic. In 2021, the Senate sent a sports betting bill to the House, where it was weighed down by party disagreements over unrelated issues.

While bipartisan support is necessary for sports betting passage, the overall chamber and party views do not necessarily align between the House and Senate, according to a source.

House poses Georgia sports betting roadblock

In the past, sports betting has fizzled in Georgia as political parties fought over other issues. Now, the problem could be how the chambers think about sports betting.

“Maybe the House has issues with the licenses or taxes,” the source said. “The House is an open question. I would not read this as a closed and done deal.”

Several sources expect a conference committee to emerge from the situation.