Georgia Sports Betting Hopes Crushed On Last Day Of Session

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Georgia sports betting

The legalization hopes for Georgia sports betting lasted deep into Thursday, the last day of session.

However, despite multiple meetings throughout the day, the House Rules Committee never advanced a Senate package to legalize Georgia sports betting Thursday. Multiple sources told LSR proponents spent much of the day trying to win over enough lawmakers to secure a House vote, but it never materialized.

Sports betting started strong early in the session in the Senate but faced an uphill battle House the rest of the way. Now, Georgia sports betting efforts will start anew in the 2025 session.

Discussions continued in Georgia

During a fourth hearing on the bills Wednesday, Sen. Bill Cowsert and Rep. Marcus Wiedower briefed the House Higher Education Committee on changes they would make Thursday morning to the sports betting bills, SR 579 and SB 386, respectively. The committee met early Thursday to act on the bills and sent it forward for a potential floor vote.

If both chambers passed SR 579, the issue would have gone to voters in November.

The Senate passed the initial legislation February 1. Industry sources suggested the Higher Education Committee, which first held a meeting on the issue March 12, continued to punt its meeting dates and votes because the issue did not have enough votes to pass.

Georgia sports betting bill basics

The enacting legislation, SB 386, set up 16 licenses, including eight for professional sports teams. The Georgia Lottery also would receive one. 

It also creates seven licenses open for competitive bid.

The Higher Education Committee raised the tax rate from 20% to 25%.

Bipartisanship an issue for Georgia sports betting?

Early this session, GA sports betting saw strong bipartisan support in the Senate as the bills passed out easily. That support is needed as there are opponents on both sides of the aisle, a situation magnified once Cowsert amended the enacting bill and tied it to a constitutional amendment.

In previous sessions, partisan politics doomed Georgia sports betting. Political differences were a top concern for industry stakeholders heading into this session.

The bipartisan support has not been as wide in the House, particularly when it came to where tax revenue would be sent. While not directly referencing any issues, Wiedower, a Republican, told the committee, “I don’t know how I can be more bipartisan.”

Constitutional amendment a sticking point?

There is also a difference in how lawmakers believe they can legalize sports betting. Cowsert is among a cohort that believes sports betting requires a constitutional amendment.

Others think legalizing sports betting as a lottery game, as the enacting bill’s original language proposed, would work.

The Senate passed both bills overwhelmingly, but sources suggest the House is not as friendly to the constitutional amendment route.

Continued Georgia sports betting failures

Last year, Georgia failed to see bills crossover chambers. With the original bills failed, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones led a backdoor effort inserting language into an unrelated bill that declared an official state soap box derby.

The Republican caucus lacked the votes on its own, but otherwise-supportive Democrats stayed with their caucus as a protest to the Georgia legislature passing a bill limiting healthcare treatments for transgender children.

In 2022, Georgia sports betting died on the last day of session when the House did not call a sports betting bill for a vote. In 2021, Democratic support fell off an otherwise strong attempt after Kemp signed a bill reducing voting rights in the state.