Why Georgia Sports Betting Legislation Failed Once Again

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Georgia sports betting

Politics once again doomed Georgia sports betting legislation this year, just in a different way than in years past.

In recent sessions, Democrats and Republicans saw collaboration on Georgia sports betting fall apart because of partisan politics on different issues. This session, which ended March 29, a difference in opinions on the need for a constitutional amendment and some House leadership challenges caused the failure, according to multiple industry sources. 

“What happened in Georgia was incredibly frustrating and disappointing,” said Brandt Iden, vice president of government affairs for Fanatics, when asked why the bill failed. “When legislative members in leadership positions make assurances, you expect them to be negotiating in good faith and willing to hold up to their commitments.

“Representative [Marcus] Wiedower delivered to leadership and his caucus everything that was expected of him with this legislation. Yet, when the time came for leadership to hold to their deal, the goalposts weren’t just moved, they removed the entire end zone from the field. Those kind of hijinks are for school children on a playground, not serious leaders.”

Bipartisan support needed for Georgia sports betting

Sports betting is an issue that often requires bipartisan support for passage because of opposition within both parties, and that is particularly true in a purple state like Georgia. That was magnified once the Senate tied passage of its bill to require a constitutional amendment, necessitating a two-thirds majority of both chambers and a public vote.

Sports betting was a Republican-driven issue this year and even garnered bipartisan support in the Senate. However, similar divisiveness from recent years reared its head in the House when the constitutional amendment requirement was added.

“Once the CA got involved it opened the door to needing bipartisan support, but they didn’t try to pull in the Dems by supporting their priorities,” one source said.

Constitutional uncertainty over Georgia sports betting

The initial Senate proposal by Sen. Clint Dixon set up sports betting as a lottery game. Sen. Bill Cowsert, however, believes the issue requires a constitutional amendment and added the stipulation on the Senate floor.

Industry stakeholders, as well as the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and Georgia teams, supported the non-amendment route. Multiple sources suggested had stakeholders supported the constitutional amendment, it might have swayed enough House votes for passage.

Earlier this year, former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton said gaming expansion does not need a constitutional amendment. That did not help unify opinions on the issue. 

Leadership questions in Georgia

While Iden laid blame at the feet of House Speaker Jon Burns, others also added blame to House Higher Education Committee Chair Rep. Chuck Martin. Multiple sources said the assignment to the committee doomed the bill. 

The committee did eventually advance SR 579 and SB 386 to the Senate Rules Committee on the last day of session, but despite multiple meetings, the Rules Committee never sent it on to the floor.

The uncertainty in the House also opened up the ability for the religious right and responsible gambling advocates to flex their influence with lawmakers, sources said.

Long period of inactivity

The Senate acted quickly this session, passing the sports betting bill, 35-15, on Feb. 1.

The House, however, moved slower. 

The Higher Education Committee did not discuss the issue until March 12 and did not vote on the issue until March 29 after multiple hearings.

What could have been in Georgia?

The Senate proposal set up 16 licenses for online sports betting, including eight for professional teams in the state. 

Along with a skin for the Georgia Lottery, operators could apply for seven competitive-bid licenses.

Throughout the process, lawmakers raised the sports betting revenue tax rate to 25%.