Sports betting revived in Georgia Senate after prior defeats

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Legalization of sports betting added to bill on soap box derby

An effort to legalize sports betting in Georgia made a comeback Thursday after two votes on similar bills previously failed in the state Senate.

Senators revived sports betting by adding it to a separate bill about soap box derby races, then quickly passed it in the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee on an 8-1 vote. The rewritten measure, House Bill 237, could soon come to a vote in the full Senate.

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who helped orchestrate the proposal’s sudden resurrection, said he wants the Senate to render a “verdict” on the idea.

“We either put it to bed so we don’t have to talk about it anymore, or we’ll get it passed and it will just be like picking up $75 million in the street,” Jones said.

Jones said the new revenue would help bolster the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship and allow Georgia to join 36 other states that allow sports betting.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Other senators predicted the latest sports betting proposal will again fall short after it was inserted into a two-page bill that originally was meant to designate the Southeast Georgia Soap Box Derby as the state’s official soap box derby.

“Whoever came up with this idea just set sports betting back five years,” said state Sen. Mike Dugan, a Republican from Carrollton. “When you hijack a soap box derby (bill) and put sports betting on the back of it, every person that was on the fence in the state of Georgia has just now picked a side of the fence.”

Under the bill, sports betting would be allowed under the Georgia Lottery without amending the state Constitution, which would have required a two-thirds vote by members in both the state House and Senate, followed by approval by Georgia voters in a referendum.

The latest proposal could become law if it wins majority approval by the state House, state Senate and Gov. Brian Kemp.

Sen. Billy Hickman said he likes the odds of sports betting passing on its third try.

This time, the bill is focused on allowing sports betting without also legalizing bets on horse racing.

“I think its chances are great. It’s an opportunity to bring additional money into the state of Georgia that is going to other states,” said Hickman, a Republican from Statesboro who sponsored one of the previous sports betting bill. “I personally use a person in Tennessee to do my sports betting, and I use a person in Florida to do my horse racing. So this is a great bill for Georgia.”

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Kemp and Jones supported sports betting on the campaign trail last year. House Speaker Jon 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. Opponents of gambling say it’s immoral, addictive and breeds crime.

Jeanne Seaver, a Savannah Republican activist who leads Moms Against Gambling, called the bill “a disgrace.”

“Georgians don’t want any expansion of gambling, and the legislative leaders are just not listening” after previous bills didn’t pass, Seaver said.

Besides the two bills that lost in the Senate, a third proposal to allow sports betting didn’t even reach a vote in the House. House Bill 380, which doesn’t include a provision requiring a constitutional amendment, would have sent revenue to the HOPE scholarship and the state’s pre-K program.