Effort to pass bill legalizing sports betting, horse racing fails in the Senate

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

An effort to pass a sports betting bill that would also legalize horse racing in Georgia failed on the Senate floor Thursday.

Senators voted 37-19 against the measure.

Senate Bill 57, sponsored by state Sen. Billy Hickman, a Statesboro Republican who breeds and races horses in other states, would have legalized online sports betting and horse racing without a constitutional amendment. He has maintained that horse racing could be treated like other sports in Georgia if it featured “fixed-rate” betting instead of the parimutuel style traditionally used at racetracks.

For years, opponents have said passage of any form of gambling bill cannot be done without first amending the state constitution. Amending the constitution is difficult because it requires approval by two-thirds of the members in each chamber of the Legislature and then win a majority of the vote in a statewide referendum.

Under SB 57, the Georgia Lottery would have been tasked with creating a gaming commission that would regulate sports betting and horse racing. Money raised would go to the state’s HOPE scholarship and pre-K programs.

Lawmakers have tried for five years 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 — which already had sports wagering — could allow it.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Hickman’s bill was one of four versions of sports betting legislation making its way through the Legislature.

Supporters have said sports betting could bring anywhere from $30 million to $100 million in revenue to the state each year. Critics — including some who oppose the legislation because they say it is immoral, addictive and will lead to crime — have said such numbers are exaggerated.

Hickman said SB 57 would have created about 8,500 jobs and $1 billion a year in economic impact, based on a study Georgia Southern University did at his request.

It’s still possible that at least two other efforts to legalize sports betting can meet Monday’s Crossover Day deadline, when a bill must pass at least one legislative chamber. Senate Resolution 140 and Senate Bill 172, sponsored by Athens Republican state Sen. Bill Cowsert, and House Bill 380, sponsored by Watkinsville Republican state Rep. Marcus Wiedower, could still advance before adjournment on Monday.

Measures that fail to advance by that day have less of a chance of becoming law, although they could see life as part of other legislation if their language is inserted in other bills that previously cleared a chamber.