It’s a path that’s as well-worn as a hiking trail in Okefenokee.
On Wednesday afternoon, Georgia senators officially filed a bill to legalize sports betting. This is a familiar occurrence that fosters initial hope but ultimately falls flat.
This time feels different, though. With newfound legal interpretation on their side, there’s optimism the General Assembly can coax a sports betting bill across the legislative finish line.
Senate Bill 57 officially filed
The Georgia sports betting bill, SB 57, was put to the floor by 11 senators. It stands on an interpretation of the State Constitution that its gambling prohibition does not apply to sports betting. This opens the door for a straight legislative passage as opposed to a ballot initiative to amend the constitution. Moving forward in that fashion would eliminate the requirement for a ballot initiative approved by voters, streamlining Georgia’s trajectory to make sports betting a reality in the state.
It’s a creative and ambitious measure, one that has a ways to go but has generated intrigue among lawmakers who are looking for further clarity on the loophole that may legalize sports gambling in Georgia. Senator Bill Cowsert, who represents counties in Northeast Georgia, told PlayUSA that he believed sports gambling would require a constitutional amendment when the bill came up last year:
“We felt that it had to be a constitutional amendment so it needed a two-thirds vote and we were able to pass it.”PlayUSA
It’s an entirely different ballgame through the lens of straight legislative passage, however. If adopted, Georgians could cast legal wagers on the Dawgs (and other sports teams) as soon as 2025.
A lengthy timeline ahead
That feels like a world away, but it should be music to the ears of residents. The Georgia Sports Betting Integrity Act would only need passage by the House and Senate, along with Governor Kemp’s signature.
The anticipated delay in the launch is due to legal and bureaucratic details in the bill. SB 57 requires specific licensing for interested outlets — the first of which would not be issued until Sept. 1, 2025. Should a final version of the proposed bill reach the governor’s desk and receive his signature, the current legislative text identifies 18 entities that will be eligible for licenses to operate as sports betting vendors in the state.
This includes the Georgia Lottery Corporation, owners of facilities that have hosted annual golf tournaments and stock car races, and professional sports teams. Georgia’s major sports franchises have been outspoken supporters of gambling legislation in the state.
Sports betting opposition may look different this time around
The bill is not without expected opposition, however. Mike Griffin, spokesman for the Georgia Baptist Convention — a long-standing opponent of legalized gambling endeavors — spoke to WABE after the filing of SB 57:
“It will be like putting gas on a fire. It’s just going to make it worse. Addictions are going to go up, mental illnesses are going to go up. The impact on children is going to go up and the cost to the state and on the taxpayer is going to go up.”WABE
The traditional foes of sports betting will likely marshall all their resources to ensure the bill’s failure. However, the proposed legislative solution does not require a voter-approved ballot initiative.
As such, a standard public relations lobbying blitz against SB 57 may not be in the cards. Lawmakers may not receive the typical public pushback that they would expect if sports betting ended up on the ballot.
Georgians are enthusiastic about the prospect of sports betting — and have been for quite some time. While past attempts have crashed out in the House or Senate, a new reading of constitutional language is giving new life and hope that sports betting will become a reality in the state.