Georgia Senate Committee Approves Sports Betting Through Constitutional Amendment


Georgia Senate Committee Approves Sports Betting Through Constitutional Amendment

The Georgia Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee has approved a plan to legalize sports betting through a state constitutional amendment.

Senate Resolution 140 passed the committee Thursday. Senate Bill 172, the enabling legislation, was pushed until the next committee hearing on Feb. 28.

Thursday’s hearing primarily focused on problem gambling, and familiar opponents of legal sports betting presented their stances. SR 140 hasn’t garnered as much attention as Senate Bill 57 – the bill that would legalize sports betting without a constitutional amendment. Introduced by Sen. Bill Cowsert, SR 140 proposes a similar operational mechanism as SB 57, which would allow Georgia sports betting through the Georgia Lottery Commission and establish the Georgia Gaming Commission to oversee legal sports betting in the state.

Traditional sports betting opposition holds firm

Mike Griffin of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board spoke against sports betting Thursday. He also led the group’s opposition to legislation in 2022. Its view is that legal sports betting in Georgia would ignite smoldering issues of addiction and immorality.

“Bottom line is if we legalize gambling in our state, or expand it in this fashion, it will be putting gasoline on a fire that we already have, making the addiction and the other issues even worse,” Griffin said.

Georgia Faith and Freedom Coalition Executive Director Mack Parnell compared sports betting with the opioid epidemic.

“One argument that I hear quite frequently in favor of this legislation is, well, it’s already happening in our state so we might as well get the revenue from it,” Parnell said. “I would say though a lot of things are happening in our state, but that doesn’t mean that our state should embrace it. I’ll give you one example: fentanyl, for example. Just because that’s happening in our state and devastating communities, doesn’t mean the state should embrace it. I’ll leave the stats and the numbers to our later speakers.”

Supporters see windfall for Georgia education

Georgia First, a nonprofit organization whose mission is, “Preserving and growing the welfare of Georgia’s future,” supports SR 140. The group’s executive director, Natalie Crawford, spoke Thursday on what gambling revenue could do for literacy in the state:

“We appreciate the innovative problem gambling provisions that are included in the bill, and wholeheartedly believe this is a critical element in this legislation. We believe that this body has an opportunity to make a real difference in an area that is a stated priority for both chambers – and that’s literacy,” Crawford said. “Georgia consistently ranks in the bottom 10 for literacy across the country, and that’s why we’d ask you to consider dedicating revenues generated by sports wagering to DECAL’s Children And Parents Scholarship program, to equip our children for the future, and ensure a more literate workforce.”

The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) also voiced its support. The state agency is focused on assisting low-income families with childcare costs. It could receive a substantial funding windfall should sports betting legislation pass in Georgia.

Advanced out of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee in a brisk 50-minute session, SR 140 is now positioned to see a full vote in the Senate during the legislative session.