Senator Lays Out Case For Sports Betting At House Committee Hearing

Written By Steve Schult on March 19, 2024
Sen. Bill Cowsert discussing an issue on the legislature floor in 2023.

The Georgia House Higher Education Committee discussed sports betting for the second time in as many weeks on Monday.

The 25-member committee held an afternoon hearing, where SR 579 was one of the topics on the agenda. Last week, they discussed Sen. Clint Dixon’s SB 386.

However, this time, members listened to Sen. Bill Cowsert outline his resolution to legalize sports betting.

Cowsert explained what his resolution does and how his attempt at legalizing Georgia sports betting differs from Dixon’s.

Cowsert’s proposal is simply an amendment

The main difference between Dixon’s bill and Cowsert’s resolution is that Dixon’s bill is a comprehensive piece of legislation. It outlines how the industry would operate and establishes certain rules and regulations around it.

On the other hand, Cowsert’s resolution does nothing more than force a constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting. In other words, the voters will decide whether Georgians can legally wager. The Senate passed Cowsert’s proposal several weeks after Dixon’s legislation.

The Republican representing Georgia’s 46th district opened his comments by explaining why a constitutional amendment is necessary to legalize sports betting.

It all stems from Lottery prohibition

Historically, the Georgia legislature has been against gambling at all. Let alone expansion.

Cowsert cited a constitutional amendment banning lotteries in Georgia. Then, in 1992, voters approved a constitutional amendment that allowed lottery games.

A few years later, voters passed another amendment to allow raffles. Lastly, in 1998, voters approved a final amendment directing how lottery tax revenue was distributed.

However, the 1991 amendment didn’t exactly legalize the lottery. It legalized “lottery games.”

Dixon’s bill would classify sports betting as a lottery game and put it under the regulatory control of the Georgia Lottery. But based on federal statutes at the time, Cowsert believes this is an incorrect interpretation of the law.

“Since sports betting had been prohibited by federal law, in all states other than Nevada and Oregon, at the time we passed our constitutional amendment in 1992, it was implicit that we would not have sports betting,” Cowsert said.

NCLGS shaped Cowsert’s views on responsible gaming

Aside from his desire for a constitutional amendment, the only sports betting issue Cowsert seemed to care deeply about was a well-funded, responsible gaming fund.

He said that the enabling legislation would iron out the finer points of a new sports betting industry.

But Cowsert spent a lot of time studying issues related to the lottery. As a result, he went to the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States meetings. There, Cowsert listened to lawmakers from other states talk about how they regulated gambling.

And his main takeaway was that problem gambling prevention initiatives needed to be well-funded.

He took questions from several different members of the committee. He was flexible on almost every issue.

After questions from the panel, four people testified against the resolution. They all took a stance against sports betting from a moral or social perspective.

Cowsert didn’t disagree with them. He wasn’t making a moral argument for sports betting. Like other lawmakers, he has taken feedback from his constituents who want it. He felt sports betting had become too engrained in American culture.

“Democracy is a pretty powerful thing,” Cowsert said. “I don’t think you can rightly criticize allowing the citizens of this state to decide what they do and do not want. They might make a bad choice. They might make a good choice. But it’s not always appropriate for us to dictate our will on them, especially with huge policy issues like this.”

Photo by AP Photo / Alex Slitz
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Steve Schult

Steve stays on top of all things related to the national gaming industry. He is also a veteran of the gambling world. The native New Yorker started covering high-stakes tournaments in 2009 for some of poker’s most prominent media outlets before adding the broader U.S. gaming market to his beat in 2018.

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