Senate Approves Bill To Leave Sports Betting Issue Up To Voters

Posted By Matthew Kredell on March 5, 2021

Legal sports betting could soon be on the minds of Georgians.

The Georgia Senate passed two bills Friday to bring online-only sports betting to the Peach State. That is, if voters approve.

Senate Bill 142 instructs the Georgia Lottery Corporation to license at least six online sports betting operators to serve the state. The implementation bill required only a simple majority of 29 votes and passed 34-17.

However, the Senate decided that legalizing sports betting requires a constitutional amendment. Needing 38 votes to reach the two-thirds threshold required for a constitutional amendment, SR 135 passed 41-10.

Both bills must now get approval from the House. The implementation bill would then need the governor’s signature, while the amendment goes on the November 2022 ballot. The governor cannot veto legislative measures to put a constitutional amendment in front of voters.

Details of Georgia sports betting bill

Here are some of the key elements of SB 142:

  • At least six licenses with no cap on total number.
  • Application fee of $10,000 and an annual license fee of $100,000.
  • 16% tax rate on aggregate revenue.
  • No wagering on in-state college teams.
  • Bans using credit cards to fund accounts.
  • Minimum age requirement of 21 years old.
  • A maximum deposit of $2,500 in any 30-day period.
  • Permits wagering on the Olympics and other athletic events sanctioned by an international organization.
  • Establishes a program for providing assistance to compulsive gamblers.
  • Requires the use of official league data for live wagers.

Sen. Bill Cowsert, who chaired the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee that handled the bills, said the maximum deposit and ban on credit cards were added to appease the faith community.

His explanation of prohibiting the use of credit cards might amuse people who bet on sports professionally:

“People would not be allowed to borrow money to go bet. Because, at the end of the day, all bettors are losers. Trust me, that’s how we’re building these fancy casinos is that there are people who go lose their money. But to many people that’s entertainment.”

The $2,500 deposit limit combines over all platforms licensed in the state.

“It’s to keep people from losing more money than they can afford,” Cowsert said. “Give them the freedom if they choose that this is the way they want to entertain themselves, but don’t let them lose the mortgage payment.”

Changes made on Senate floor

A small amendment made on the floor to earmarks “at least 50%” of revenue made by the state from sports betting to need-based scholarships, grants or loans to in-state students attending a Georgia public college or eligible private colleges and universities in the state.

The body rejected an amendment requiring 30% of licenses to go to minority-owned businesses.

Cowsert asserted that the low license fee was meant to include Georgia-based businesses that might be minority owned.

“By reducing the amount to $100,000 per license, it allows Georgia businesses to offer sports betting if they want to, and not just Las Vegas, Nevada, businesses or national companies from out of state taking our money.”

Sen. Jeff Mullis, sponsor of the bills, said he expected more changes in reconciling language with the House.

There are a number of discrepancies between the Senate bill and one considered by the House. One is that the House bill outlawed all wagering on college sports.

Mullis seemed to indicate on the floor that he expected Georgia sports betting to come down to a conference committee to work out differences between the Senate and House bills. The Georgia legislative session runs through April 2.

Need for constitutional amendment up for debate

Georgia requires a constitutional amendment for the expansion of gambling in the state. There is debate as to whether sports betting done through the lottery constitutes an expansion.

Mullis offered the constitutional amendment as an option for his colleagues to consider. Cowsert and others decided it was needed.

However, Rep. Ron Stephens, the House sponsor, previously argued that running sports betting through the lottery makes a constitutional amendment unnecessary.

SR 135 poses the following question to voters:

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize sports betting in this state and to provide for such proceeds to be used for need based educational funding, rural health care services, and deployment of broadband to unserved areas?”

Going through the constitutional amendment process would delay legal sports betting from reaching Georgians until 2023.

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