Georgia will gamble on constitutional amendment for sports betting

georgia sports betting

Credit: CRAIG DUDEK

Credit: CRAIG DUDEK

Georgia sports betting update

Is this finally the year Georgia sports betting takes a big step forward?

The Georgia Senate certainly took steps to make it happen this week, but it will leave the ultimate decision up to voters in the Peach State.

After years of debate on the proper methodology to legalize sports betting, the Senate yesterday approved an amended version of Sen. Clint Dixon’s (R-45) sports betting bill, SB 386, that will require a constitutional amendment to legalize the new form of gaming by a 35-15 vote.

If approved by the House of Representatives, Georgia voters would have the final say on sports betting at the 2024 November general election.

Are Georgia legislators on the same page?

Dixon’s bipartisan bill legalizes online sports betting for 16 license holders in the state and called for the Georgia Lottery to regulate the games. Unlike previously introduced bills, Dixon’s piece of legislation did not call for a constitutional amendment to trigger sports betting legalization.

However, during yesterday’s Senate floor hearing, Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-46) proposed an amendment to the bill to require a constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting.

By legalizing sports betting through a constitutional amendment, the state will be safeguarding itself from future lawsuits from outside parties who believe the Georgia Lottery is not a legal regulator for the new form of gaming.

“A constitutional amendment does not undermine the purposes or guidelines of this bill,” he told the Senate.

It was quickly adopted by a 34-7 vote. If approved by the House of Representatives, Georgia voters will have the final say on sports betting in the 2024 November general election.

While a constitutional amendment effectively ensures that Georgia sports betting has no chance at a 2024 launch, it’s likely the safest and surest way for the state to pass the measure. Over the last several years of sports betting discussion, there has been a clear group of proponents in the legislature who hope to see sports betting legalized.

However, it seemed as if the supporters of Georgia sports betting were split as to whether a constitutional amendment was necessary or if a simple bill was all that was needed to legalize the new form of gaming. Every session saw a number of bills floated with differing trigger methods for legalization, effectively splitting support for sports betting into smaller and smaller camps that ensured no bill would be passed.

If all support can find itself behind one bill, Georgia would finally have its best chance at legalizing sports betting. The bill now heads to the House, where a united front of supporters behind just this single piece of legislation could finally put it over the top.

To his credit, Dixon supported the legislative process and his amended bill at the end of the session. He could have easily decried the amendment, which he opposed during the Senate hearing, but instead supported the finalized bill.

“In passing SB 386, we’ve paved the way for responsible and regulated sports betting in Georgia. As our state evolves, it’s crucial to acknowledge the existing landscape with neighboring states already engaging in this activity. With millions in potential revenue, SB 386 ensures that these funds contribute to the growth of Georgia, supporting essential programs such as the HOPE scholarship and pre-kindergarten initiatives,” he said in a released statement.

Let voters have final say

If approved by the Georgia House of Representatives, a ballot question would be presented to Georgia voters on Nov. 5, 2024. The Georgia Lottery was approved by state voters through a constitutional amendment in the 1992 general election.

“I believe that people of Georgia are smart enough to decide whether they want to remove the gambling prohibition in our constitution. We need to let the people of Georgia vote on this…Let’s let people vote to decide what they want in Georgia, just like we let them vote for the lottery,” Sen. Carden H. Summers (R-13) said before the Senate vote.

Voters would decide the fate of Dixon’s bill, which sets the sports betting tax rate at 20% of adjusted gross revenue. Licenses would cost $1 million annually to renew and applicants would have to pay a $100,000 application fee. It would allow for bets on college sports.

The bill accounts for a total of 16 online sports betting licenses, with the numbers breaking down as follows:

  • Five for Georgia professional sports teams (Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Braves, Atlanta United FC, and Atlanta Dream)
  • One for Augusta National Golf Course
  • One for the PGA Tour
  • One for Atlanta Motor Speedway
  • One for the Georgia Lottery Corporation

The remaining seven licenses will be awarded by the Lottery Corporation through a public procurement process.

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