Finding common ground in the contentious Georgia Legislature is no easy task. But Senate Bill 386, one of two bills legalizing sports wagering currently on the table, might have threaded the needle.
SB 386’s path to legalization has appealed to lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum, including Sen. Bo Hatchett and Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler. Atlanta sports teams as well as the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce are also in support. Additionally, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who leads the Senate, supports the bill.
But, maybe most importantly, it has also appealed to the operators that would apply for Georgia sports betting licenses.
Jen Ryan, the Georgia spokeswoman for the Sports Betting Alliance, which represents DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, and Fanatics Sportsbook, told PlayUSA that support from many different places has helped SB 386 build momentum.
“I think the key difference this year is that, after working on this for six years, we have built a coalition with a bipartisan group of legislators and diverse group of stakeholders,” Ryan said. “Everyone is rowing in the same direction and you can feel the difference. The momentum is strong right out of the gate.”
SB 386 offers an easier path to sports gambling
SB 386, spearheaded by Sen. Clint Dixon, includes support from seemingly every side of the equation. Both Democrats and Republicans are in support as well as Atlanta professional sports teams and a diverse group of stakeholders.
As SB 386 is currently constructed, it would allow sports betting in Georgia, but only online. It would also link sports betting to the Georgia Lottery so that legalization would not require approval via a voter referendum during an election.
There would be 16 licenses made available with eight dedicated to professional sports teams and another seven standalone licenses for sports betting operators. The final license would be owned by the Georgia Lottery.
Sports betting revenue would be taxed at 15% and the application fee is $100,000 with an annual renewal fee of $1 million.
SB 172, meanwhile, has already cleared its first hurdle
While tying sports betting to the lottery makes legalization easier, some lawmakers feel it is disingenuous to consider sports betting a branch of the lottery.
One such critic is Sen. Bill Cowsert.
Cowsert recently introduced Senate Bill 172, which would also legalize sports betting in Georgia but would only do so if approved by a voter referendum.
“From my legal analysis, I agree with a version that this requires a constitutional amendment,” Cowsert said at a meeting of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee earlier this month. “I just think it’s a real stretch to call sports betting a lottery game when that certainly was not a case at the time when we created our constitutional exception to allow lotteries.”
Others feel that taking the tougher road to legalization makes little sense and would keep money from programs that need it. Ryan gave an example of how a constitutional amendment could make less sense.
“Based on the judicial opinion and the fact that a constitutional amendment takes longer and requires a two-thirds vote, it would frankly be unnecessary,” she told PlayUSA. “The will of the legislature seems amenable to doing something just with sports betting and doing it this session rather than waiting to put it on the ballot. It’s more effective and efficient, and it gets the revenue to Georgia Pre-K faster.”
SB 172 advanced past the committee stage earlier this month. SB 386, meanwhile, has not yet been slated for a committee hearing.