Partisan politics ended any chances of legalizing Georgia sports betting this year, according to Rep. Ron Stephens.
Both chambers of the Georgia legislature renewed sports betting initiatives late in the session, but it was too little, too late.
HB 903 and SR 841 were both substituted in the opposite chambers to include sports betting. Expanded gambling has always been a tough sell in Georgia, but the hope was sports betting taxes could help address the budget’s deficit of billions of dollars following coronavirus-pandemic shutdowns.
Neither saw action beyond their committees and finally expired when the legislative session ended Friday night.
“I gave it a Hail Mary, but it didn’t get across the line,” Stephens said.
Fight for Georgia sports betting ended by politics
Stephens substituted the original SR 841 with his sports betting proposal, which he first pitched as HR 378 earlier in the session. But constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote, which would have been nearly impossible to get, he said.
There was some indication that sports betting only might get a look, which was why HB 903 was sports betting tacked on late. It was a similar proposal as SB 403 from Sen. Burt Jones that would legalize mobile-only sports betting through the Georgia Lottery.
Sports betting revenue would be taxed at 10% and could have generated $50 million to $60 million in annual revenue for the state, Stephens said.
But eventually, the Senate made it clear there would be no votes on anything concerning gambling at all.
Stephens’ tone was disappointed, saying the tax dollars for an activity that’s already happening in Georgia could have helped the state in the post-coronavirus environment. But that argument fell on deaf ears of gambling opponents.
“I guess we’re making way too much common sense,” he said. “There’s an old saying: don’t confuse me with the facts.
Holding gambling for next governor?
Stephens, a Republican, thinks maybe the issue wasn’t anti-gambling stances at all. He said recent polls show as many as 70% of Georgians want to vote on gambling issues. Any gambling issue would likely pass overwhelmingly, he added.
“Those on the other side are leaning toward holding these issues, and I mean all of these issues as far as gambling, until the next gubernatorial election so that they can serve it up on a silver platter for an enormous amount of votes,” Stephens said. “I gotta hand it to them: that’s smart if they’re going that direction.”
Georgia’s next gubernatorial election is in 2022.
Did referendum allow too much?
A referendum would typically be easier to pass in a time crunch. Maryland proved that to be true earlier this year.
But legislators in Georgia, opposed to gaming expansion for years, had a tough time swallowing the legalization of casinos and racetracks as well, Stephens said.
Where gambling could take place would be up to individual counties to decide. Sports betting would not be allowed outside of casinos or racetracks.
SR 841 was slightly more attractive when it comes to where the tax revenue will go. It establishes the Emergency Powers Fund, which would be equal to 10% of the prior fiscal year’s general fund.
Any additional taxes would be put toward the Opportunity Fund, which helps with education for students in households below the state’s median income level.