Key Georgia Republican says sports betting is still on the table in 2023

‘We don’t close the door on anything’
Georgia Speaker of the House Jon Burns indicated Thursday that it's still possible for a sports betting bill to win passage during this year's legislative session, even though four efforts failed to meet a crucial deadline this week. “We have a 40-day session last time I checked, and we’re going to have a 40-day session this year,” Burns said at an Atlanta Press Club luncheon, adding: “We don’t close the door on anything. We’re going to continue to talk.” (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Georgia Speaker of the House Jon Burns indicated Thursday that it's still possible for a sports betting bill to win passage during this year's legislative session, even though four efforts failed to meet a crucial deadline this week. “We have a 40-day session last time I checked, and we’re going to have a 40-day session this year,” Burns said at an Atlanta Press Club luncheon, adding: “We don’t close the door on anything. We’re going to continue to talk.” (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Georgia House Speaker Jon Burns indicated Thursday that there’s still a chance for sports betting legislation to pass this year, even after four gambling initiatives were either rejected or failed to reach a vote before a key legislative deadline this week.

The Republican said the marathon Crossover Day session on Monday “may not have been the right time, the best time” to pass a bill to legalize sports betting. He then pointed out that there are still more days left on the legislative calendar.

“We have a 40-day session last time I checked, and we’re going to have a 40-day session this year,” Burns said at an Atlanta Press Club luncheon, adding: “We don’t close the door on anything. We’re going to continue to talk.”

He sounded more receptive to the legislation than he did after adjourning just before midnight Monday, when he told reporters “this year was not the right time for it in the House.”

It’s not immediately clear whether Burns had a change of heart or if his remarks on Monday were misinterpreted. Either way, several senior GOP officials privately indicated on Thursday that the sports betting measure still has an opening.

While measures that fail to advance by Crossover Day have less of a chance of becoming law, they could still see life if their language is tacked onto other bills that previously cleared a chamber. There are several measures that could be potential “vehicles” for a renewed sports betting push.

A potential revival would be a turnabout in the perennial debate on sports betting, which appeared to have plenty of traction entering this legislative session.

Gov. Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov. Burt Jones both supported the idea on the campaign trail, and Burns said he preferred legalizing sports betting over a broader expansion of gambling.

Still, the legislation stalled amid debates over whether it should advance as a constitutional amendment and rifts over how the new revenue it would generate should be spent. And some critics oppose gambling because they say it’s immoral, addictive and breeds crime.

One measure that would have legalized sports betting and horse racing was resoundingly rejected last week in the Senate, and another seeking an amendment to the state constitution to regulate sports betting fell short of the two-thirds threshold it needed in the chamber on Monday.

Amending the constitution is difficult because it requires two-thirds support in each chamber of the Legislature, plus the backing of a majority of voters in a statewide referendum.

A third proposal to allow sports betting did not even reach a vote in the House on Monday. House Bill 380, which doesn’t include a provision for a constitutional amendment, would send revenue to the HOPE scholarship and the state’s pre-K program.

In a thinly veiled message to supporters of the effort, a coalition that includes the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the city’s pro sports teams, Burns made clear that boosting funding for pre-K is a priority.

“For me, it’s about pre-K and what we can do to enhance that program,” Burns said. “This would have been a pathway to do that.”

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