Deja vu? Sports betting bill again passes Georgia Senate panel

DraftKings Sportsbook provides an impressive online sports betting platform.

Credit: DraftKings

Credit: DraftKings

DraftKings Sportsbook provides an impressive online sports betting platform.

Georgia senators wasted no time in making yet another attempt to legalize online sports betting this year.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee on Tuesday — the second day of the 2024 legislative session — approved Senate Bill 172, which would create a gaming commission to regulate sports betting.

The legislation also would direct sports betting revenue to needs-based college scholarships, addressing poverty, promoting Georgia as a sporting event destination, improving education and offering gambling addiction services.

Known as “enabling legislation,” the bill would only take effect if Georgia voters approve changing the state constitution to allow for sports betting. But amending the state constitution is difficult because it requires the support of two-thirds of each chamber and then a majority of Georgia voters.

State Sen. Frank Ginn, a Danielsville Republican, said he wasn’t comfortable passing the bill when lawmakers haven’t yet seen a proposed constitutional amendment.

“For me, that’s kind of like throwing darts in the dark,” he said. Ginn voted against the bill, which passed 8-4 with bipartisan support — and opposition.

Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Bill Cowsert, an Athens Republican and sponsor of SB 172, said, “I thought the enabling legislation should be voted on first so the voters would know what it is they’re voting on if they pass the (constitutional amendment).”

There are are two schools of thought on the legality of expanding gambling in Georgia. Some supporters say gambling can only be expanded in Georgia through a constitutional amendment. Others say sports betting should be considered a lottery game and can be legalized without changing the constitution.

Analysts at the Capitol have been inconsistent on whether the state constitution allows sports betting. In 2019, Legislative Counsel Director Rick Ruskell recommended passing a constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting, citing ambiguity in the state constitution’s definitions.

Cowsert said at least three senators will be proposing resolutions to ask voters to legalize various forms of gambling, whether it’s sports betting by itself or some combination of sports betting, horse racing and casino gambling.

Cowsert sponsored a resolution last year that would have put the question before Georgia voters, but it failed to get two-thirds support in the Senate.

This is the sixth year lawmakers have attempted to expand gambling in Georgia to include sports betting, an effort that began after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 ruled that states other than Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon could allow it. Now, sports betting is legal in 38 states.

But each year the bills have struggled to cross the finish line in Georgia.

Supporters of sports betting say Georgians illegally bet nearly $5 billion a year on sports. Georgians can pull up a sports betting website or app on their cellphone and place bets on games — most likely using overseas servers and skirting Georgia’s laws. Supporters have said sports betting could bring anywhere from $30 million to $100 million in revenue to the state each year.

Opponents, most of whom believe any form of gambling is immoral, addictive and leads to crime, say the estimates for increased state revenue are exaggerated.

Gov. Brian Kemp has said he would work with legislative leaders on sports betting — something he previously opposed. When Lt. Gov. Burt Jones was a state senator, he sponsored legislation to make sports betting legal. And House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, has indicated he is open to the idea.

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