The Georgia General Assembly once again failed to enact sports betting legislation during its 2023 legislative session. Now, all eyes turn to 2024.
Some unique maneuvering took place last session. There were a pair of bills written to circumvent a constitutional amendment, and a last-second amendment to a soap box derby bill fashioned it into sports betting legislation. All efforts failed, though, so now it’s up to the 2024 General Assembly.
Will 2024 be the year that horse racing is legalized in the state of Georgia?
A heavy legislative climb for horse racing in Georgia
Horse racing is legal in Georgia. Betting on horse racing in Georgia, however, is not legal. While there are a few horse races run each year in Georgia, there is no track betting nor off-track betting. The logic behind that is difficult to comprehend.
While there’s a palpable appetite for legal sports betting in the state Legislature, lawmakers are far less apt to consider horse racing. Senator Billy Hickman’s failed SB 57 was one of the proposed measures that would have bypassed supermajority requirements in the House and Senate and a voter-backed initiative to amend the Georgia Constitution. Falling 37-19 in the Senate, the bill did not achieve the simple majority required to move the legislation to the other chamber.
One of the main reasons for its failure was the inclusion of horse racing language. While Hickman says he included the horse racing language as it would boost the Georgia agricultural sector, societal winds have shifted recently in regard to betting on horses. A primary reason for the souring view of the sport is the safety of the horses themselves. The recent suspension of racing at Churchill Downs in the wake of 12 horse deaths at the Kentucky Derby will only further crystallize that view.
If Georgia wants to join Tennessee as a sports gambling state in the South, legislators would be wise not to link horse racing with sports betting.
Tennessee could be a model for Georgia betting on horse racing
It will take a very clever legal draft for horse racing in Georgia to be legalized during the 2024 General Assembly. For a viable path forward, legislators will need to take a path similar to its northern neighbor, Tennessee.
The Volunteer State does not have any retail sportsbooks, but it has legalized online sports betting – and raked in a lot of tax revenue. Online wagers can be made on horse races, but there are no horse tracks or off-track-betting in the state.
Such a view would likely be far more palatable for a Legislature that’s historically averse to gambling in general.
Abandon the constitutional end-run
One thing is clear for the future: If Georgia hopes to legalize sports betting or horse racing, it will need to run through supermajorities and a public vote. Both of the bills designed to bypass the requirement to amend the Constitution fell flat, a sign that lawmakers value tradition over legislative trickeration.
This shouldn’t be bad news for Georgians itching to place legal wagers, however. It means sports betting could be adopted by lawmakers, signed by the governor, and voted on by the public in the same calendar year.
Ostensibly, Georgians could begin placing legal wagers on horses at the start of 2025.
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