Online sports betting bill passes Georgia Senate again

The Georgia Senate on Thursday sent another version of an online sports betting bill to the House, continuing a six-year saga of attempts to legalize the form of gambling.

Senate Bill 386 passed 35-15, with bipartisan groups of lawmakers both supporting and opposing the legislation.

There are two schools of thought on sports betting: whether the Georgia Constitution allows sports betting as a legalized version of gambling or if the state constitution needs to be amended to allow the practice.

As initially proposed, SB 386 would not have required a referendum be placed before Georgia voters asking whether they think the state should amend the constitution to allow sports betting. But senators voted 34-7 during debate to change the bill to require voters to approve a constitutional amendment before the law could take effect.

“This is an issue we’ve been dealing with for several years and I think many of us are just about exhausted by it,” said Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Bill Cowsert, an Athens Republican who sponsored the last-minute change to the bill. “To pass this bill without making it be contingent upon the voters of the state being allowed to weigh in and approve it is disingenuous at best and just sneaky to try to circumvent the voters in the state of Georgia.”

Because of the amendment to the bill, lawmakers would have to pass a resolution — with two-thirds support of each chamber — to put the issue on the ballot for voters to approve before it would take effect.

Expanding gambling in Georgia has historically been difficult to do because it has typically been thought to require amending the state constitution. An effort to legalize sports betting through a constitutional amendment, sponsored by Cowsert, failed on the Senate floor last year.

SB 386 would authorize online sports betting under the Georgia Lottery, with taxes or fees raised from sports betting to go to educational programs, such as the HOPE scholarship and prekindergarten classes.

State Sen. Clint Dixon, a Buford Republican who sponsored the bill, said under the proposed legislation, the state could issue up to 16 licenses for online sports betting.

Seven licenses would be available to private online sports betting businesses. Companies interested in operating sports betting in Georgia would have to pay a $100,000 application fee and an annual license fee of $1 million. License holders would pay a 20% income tax to the state on the company’s adjusted gross income.

The remaining licenses could be awarded to professional sports teams in Georgia, the Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Masters and the PGA Tour. The Georgia Lottery could also hold a license.

Dixon’s bill has the support of the Atlanta Metro Chamber and several sports teams.

State Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Gwinnett, is seen during discussion over Senate Bill 386, a sports betting bill, in the Senate at the Capitol in Atlanta on Thursday, February 1, 2024. (Arvin Temkar /


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Gov. Brian Kemp has said he would work with legislative leaders on a measure to allow sports betting — something he previously opposed. When Lt. Gov. Burt Jones was a state senator, he sponsored legislation to make sports betting legal.

“We are one step closer to providing tens of millions of dollars to education funding for the next generations of Georgia,” Jones said in a statement.

Backers 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 that make the practice illegal. Supporters have also said sports betting could bring anywhere from $30 million to $100 million in revenue to the state each year.

Critics have said such numbers are exaggerated. Many typically oppose gambling in all forms, citing issues with morality and addiction.

“Our state is doing very well,” said state Sen. Marty Harbin, a Republican from Tyrone. “Gambling is not the solution to our problems. Stronger families, better education and hard work, I believe, are the difference that would make (Georgia) better.”

Several variations of sports betting bills have been floated within the Capitol in recent years, and a few have been approved by the Senate. The bills have gone nowhere in the House, where SB 386 now goes for its consideration.