If early indications in the Georgia Senate are an accurate forecast of future events, voters in the Peach State may decide the issue of legal sports betting in 2022.
On Thursday, the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee advanced two pieces of legislation that would move the matter in that direction.
While that’s no guarantee that either SB 142 or SR 135 will receive an equal amount of support moving forward, it’s a positive step. The committee members also gave some insight into what legal online sports betting in Georgia might look like.
How did the committee hearing on Georgia sports betting go?
The pieces of legislation had the benefit of strong advocacy in the committee meeting. Both sponsors of SR 135 are on the committee, including the chair, Sen. Bill Cowsert. Half the senators who sponsor SB 142 also sit on the committee.
The sponsors weren’t the only ones who had their say on the matter Thursday, however. Two witnesses testified against the legislation. Both Mike Griffin of the Georgia Baptist Convention and Virginia Galloway of the Faith and Freedom Coalition voiced moral concerns over expanding gambling.
Most of the comments from the committee members came from Cowsert. He expressed his support for legalizing sports betting in Georgia through a constitutional amendment. He offered two reasons for why doing so that way is preferable. First off, Cowsert raised the issue of the constitutionality of authorizing the activity via statute.
“We have talked at length in here about the debate on whether there’s a necessity for a constitutional amendment in order to have sports betting or whether that can be done just by statute by defining sports betting as a lottery game. I have come to the conclusion, and I think that’s supported certainly by our legislative council’s office and by many of the folks that have presented things to us that’s a real stretch to call sports betting a lottery game just by our definition.”
Cowsert also suggested that expanding the definition of lottery games would limit the ways the state can use tax revenue from sports betting. After a little more discussion, the committee voted to recommend both SB 142 and SR 135 with a “do pass” designation.
So what’s in SR 135 and SB 142?
SR 135 is simply a potential constitutional amendment that state voters would consider in November 2022. It would pose a simple question to Peach State residents: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize sports betting in this state?”
The remainder of the resolution text gets more detailed, adding sports betting to the list of legal gambling forms in Georgia. The language designates sports betting tax proceeds for needs-based educational scholarships, rural broadband access and rural healthcare. SR 135 also gives the General Assembly explicit authority to create regulations for the activity.
As for the other piece of legislation, SB 142 is a comprehensive breakdown of what those rules would encompass. The Georgia Lottery would oversee legal sports betting in the state under the auspice of the Assembly. Other items of particular interest include:
- 16% tax rate on aggregate revenue
- No wagering on in-state college teams
- At least six licenses with no cap on total number
- Application fee of $10,000 and an annual license fee of $100,000
- Bans using credit cards to fund accounts
- Explicitly states licensees can use any data source for live wagers
Those elements may produce some points of contention in the lower chamber of the Assembly, should the full Senate pass SB 142. The current House companion bill has some discrepancies, and there is some doubt over whether the House will move on gambling expansion at all right now.
Where do SB 142 and SR 135 go from here?
It isn’t clear whether the legislation will head to the full floor or to another committee. If it ultimately does proceed to the House, there will be some reconciliation to handle. HB 86 has a higher tax rate, for example. The House bill also bans betting on college sporting events, not just those which involve Georgia teams.
There is some building resistance to gambling expansion in the House, too. Leaders of the Democratic Party, the minority party in the House, have threatened to vote down any gambling expansion measure if the Republican majority continues to push legislation that would modify voting procedures in the state.
Naturally, even if that resistance proves effective, that may have little effect on what the Senate does. The two parties may be able to work out a compromise that allows gambling expansion to move forward.
As it sits right now, the best hope for Georgia sports betting is a statewide vote next year. While that wouldn’t mean legal sportsbooks are up and running until sometime in 2023, it’s a more optimistic situation than the status quo.