Georgia sports betting legislation failed in 2023, but sports betting backers in two other states in the region – North Carolina and South Carolina – have made major progress.
Residents of states in the South have historically been more reluctant to legalize most forms of gambling than their counterparts in other parts of the U.S. And while Tennessee’s legalization of mobile sports betting in 2019 and its launch in 2021 didn’t immediately move the needle all across the region, the efforts in the Carolinas may provide a blueprint for success for Georgia sports betting efforts next year.
North Carolina progress
North Carolina appears to be on the verge of mobile sports betting legalization after the state House of Representatives recently voted to approve a bill on the topic. The state Senate approved a similar measure in 2021, and Gov. Roy Cooper has indicated his eagerness to sign a gambling bill into law.
While it’s not clear when the Senate will take up a vote on the House bill, the plan is for the first legal bets to be taken Jan. 8, 2024, for the NCAA college football championship game that day.
North Carolina legalized in-person betting at three tribal casinos in 2019, and two western North Carolina casinos started taking action in 2021. The third casino, Catawba Two Kings Casino in the greater Charlotte area, started taking bets last fall, and it is the only such site within 100 miles of the state’s largest cities.
Still, the lack of controversy over that gambling legalization may have eased the minds of some reluctant lawmakers to advance the online sports betting bill.
The North Carolina bill, if passed in the Senate without amendments, would allow betting on professional and college sports, the Olympics and eSports. Debates on the latter three markets are prevalent in U.S. statehouses and sometimes delay or even scuttle legalization efforts.
The tax rate tentatively has been set at 14% – about the national average – and the legislation allows for promotional deductions, which do eat into tax revenue in the early going. Gambling on horse racing still would be banned. Up to 12 “interactive sports wagering operators” – would be permitted to obtain a license. That leaves enough room for all of the major sportsbooks to have a chance to enter the North Carolina market.
Tax revenue would go to athletic departments at public colleges and universities and toward attracting more major sporting events in the state.
South Carolina progress
South Carolina sports betting is more relevant to some Georgians because residents of cities such as Savannah and Augusta live so close to the state line that crossing the border and placing legal bets would be simple.
Residents of far northern Georgia already can visit the two western North Carolina casinos to place legal bets. Still, the population of Georgia would-be gamblers is more concentrated on the South Carolina border.
While North Carolina legislators have spent several years on sports betting issues, the recent approval by the South Carolina House Ways and Means Revenue Policy Subcommittee of mobile-only sports betting marked the first time such gambling has gained traction in the state.
The bill is headed to a vote of the entire House Ways and Means Committee.
Up to eight sportsbook licenses would be available, with the Darlington Raceway NASCAR track and the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage event among the potential licensees.
The tax rate would be a modest 10%, and the state would allow tax deductions on promotional offers. The legal age to gamble would be age 18 – not age 21, as is more typical in the U.S.
Some of the opposition to gambling legalization typically is over concerns that it would lead to an increase in financial distress of state residents, including personal bankruptcies and even suicide.
It sometimes takes years to explain that while such concerns are well-founded, illegal gambling is so rampant in every state that opposition to legal, regulated gambling does not prevent those issues from happening anyway.
Will Georgia keep pace?
If South Carolina sports betting continues gaining momentum, Georgia could be looking at legal online sports betting in three of its five neighboring states. Will that be enough to encourage the Peach State to keep pace, or will the strength of the Georgia economy, coupled with the state’s long-standing sports betting opponents, entrench the state in its current prohibitive gaming climate?