New Sports Betting Language Set To Move In Georgia House

Georgia sports betting house committee

With one week left in the legislative session, sports betting finally is on the mind of Georgia lawmakers.

Rep. Ron Stephens revealed two amendments on Monday. One puts a constitutional amendment in front of voters on allowing Georgia sports betting and casino gambling. The other authorizes retail and online sports wagering.

Stephens added the amendments to Senate bills and pushed them through his House Committee on Economic Development and Tourism on Monday afternoon.

“Come Monday, probably every lobbyist in the South will be down here in Georgia trying to get this across the finish line,” Stephens told PlayGeorgia last week.

After discussing them with the Republican Caucus on Monday morning, Stephens believes he has support to get the bills through the House this week. He’s eyeing House passage Wednesday. Georgia’s legislative session ends Monday, April 4.

“We’re looking to get this back over to the Senate this week,” Stephens said. “It’s a big lift for the last week. But we’re as close as we’ve ever been.”

Deciding to do a constitutional amendment

Last year, the Senate passed two gaming bills. Senate Resolution 135 changed the state constitution to allow for sports betting.

Then SB 142 enabled sports betting in the state. After running into party politics in the House, both bills carried over to this year. Stephens will amend both bills with new language.

A constitutional amendment would go in front of voters in the November election.

The Senate resolution asked voters only about sports betting. Stephens’ proposal is broader. It seeks to repeal the prohibition on all betting and gambling in Georgia.

It specifies that all lotteries, sales of lottery tickets, and all forms of bingo games, sports betting, gambling and raffles shall be lawful if so permitted by the General Assembly.

Stephens confirmed that gambling could include casinos or parimutuel facilities. But only if enabled by future legislation. The constitutional amendment also includes language providing local control to county commissioners, who would put in front of voters any future plans to open a casino or parimutuel facility in the area.

At Monday’s hearing, Rep. Randy Nix attempted to amend the substitute for SR 135 to strike all forms of gambling other than sports betting. His amendment failed.

Georgia lawmakers have considered legalizing casino gambling in the past. But Stephens indicated that lawmakers would focus on sports wagering in the final week of this legislative session.

The constitutional amendment could set the table for the General Assembly to authorize casinos as early as next year.

Details of new Georgia sports betting language

Stephens’ proposal substantially differs from last year’s House bill, including allowing retail sportsbooks for Georgia sports entities.

It creates the possibility for Georgia to have up to 18 sportsbook apps.

Here’s the key details:

  • Establishes the Georgia Sports Betting Commission to provide regulatory oversight of sports betting.
  • Eligibility for retail sports betting licenses limited to pro sports teams (Braves, Falcons, Hawks, Dream, Atlanta United, Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Masters, Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta and the PGA Tour, so long as two events are in Georgia).
  • 18 online sports betting licenses, half for sports entities and half free-floating.
  • The Georgia Lottery Corporation can put sports betting kiosks or lottery machines that include sports betting in bars, restaurants, convenience stores and retail outlets that currently offer lottery products.
  • Sports teams and operators pay $1 million annually for a license, with an application fee of $100,000.
  • Between five and 10 Type 2 distributors may contract with the GLC. Each distributor pays a $100,000 annual license fee and $10,000 application fee.
  • Type 1 licensees pay a 20% tax rate on adjusted gross income. Type 2 licensees pay 20% on gross revenue.
  • Revenue is split equally between traditional HOPE college scholarships and Pre-K funding, where lottery revenue goes, and a needs-based opportunity fund for education.
  • Credit cards aren’t allowed to place sports bets. Wagers can be made using cash, debit cards or wire transfers.
  • Sporting event operators may request that official league data be required for in-game wagers, if such data is available on commercially reasonable terms.
  • Effective date of July 1, 2023, if ratified by voters in the November election.

Stephens also seeks to create a Georgia Gaming Commission to oversee all gambling in the state.

Amendments made in committee

During the committee hearing, Stephens explained that when the bills came over from the House last year, 25 states had legalized sports betting. Now, 33 states have authorized sports betting, and he said projections have that total reaching 44.

Lawmakers spoke on the bills for two hours before voting. People of color in the committee lauded the bill’s focus on needs-based educational funding.

There’s a gap in tuition costs and what HOPE and Pre-K scholarships pay. The opportunity-based funding takes care of that gap for people who fall below the mean income in Georgia, currently about $58,000.

“I’ve seen many kids having to drop out of school for a lack of funding,” said Rep. Edna Jackson, who retired from working in higher education at a historically black college. “Everybody is saying a thousand dollars, but I worked in financial aid and I’ve seen kids drop out for lack of $500.”

Three minor amendments were added in committee, one to SR 135 and two to SB 142. Stephens supported all the amendments. The most notable amendment came from Rep. Josh Bonner. It extended the ban for wagering on high school sports to club teams and travel teams.

Differences with Senate bill

If the Georgia House does send these bills to the Senate this week, the Senate will receive bills substantially different from what it passed last year.

Here’s some of the main differences:

  • The Senate bill has no retail sports betting component or cap on untethered online licenses.
  • Annual license fee in the House version is 10-times more than the $100,000 in the Senate bill.
  • Tax rate increases from 16% to 20%.
  • The Georgia Lottery Commission regulates sports betting in the Senate bill. The House creates the new Georgia Sports Betting Commission.
  • House version allows wagering on in-state college teams.
  • Senate bill contains a maximum deposit of $2,500 over any 30-day period, which would really hinder the market.

Photo by Darron Cummings / Associated Press