- Georgia Legislators Want Legal Sports Betting
- The House and Senate Differ on Legality
- A Constitutional Amendment is the Likeliest Outcome
Legalized sports betting is one of the few policies garnering support from backers of both political parties. Georgia is no exception, but legalization will require compromise. With state budgets in dire straits across the country, licensing and tax online gaming operators is seen as an easy source of new revenue.
Currently, Georgia residents seeking their gambling fix are limited to the lottery and scattered charitable bingo or raffle offerings. That is, of course, unless they play at offshore casinos. Since their money leaves the state without any revenue flowing to empty government coffers, legalized betting has many supporters in the legislature.
Would Sports Betting Be Constitutional in Georgia?
There are various arguments that lawmakers must consider when implementing legal sports wagering. First, who regulates the gaming? How many licensed operators should be allowed? What taxes should be raised, and where should the revenue go? Will gaming be restricted to online offerings, or should retail books be permitted?
You can find support for any and all answers to those questions, but Georgia is confronting a simpler one: would it be constitutional?
Georgia’s constitution currently only allows for “lottery style” gaming. Similar to a debate occurring in Connecticut, some feel sports betting is legally a lottery game. However, others believe it is a “casino style” game, and therefore would be banned under the constitution. For example, Georgia state senator Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) recently stated “it’s a real stretch to call sports betting a lottery game.” And he supports expanded gambling options.
If the state legislature passes a sports betting bill, there is no guarantee Georgia’s courts would allow the state lottery to legally regulate its implementation. So, state senators like Cowsert are backing a different idea: a constitutional amendment.
Proposed Gambling Constitutional Amendment
Momentum towards a legislative solution for sports betting has slowed in the Georgia House. Despite prominent backing from the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance, a consortium of the state’s pro franchises, opposition to expanded gambling remains fierce.
There is a reason that Virginia and Tennessee are the only southern states to have implemented mobile sports betting, despite its increasing popularity — the Peach State has long placed limitations on what vices its citizens could indulge.
More recently, the house’s plan for sports betting, HB 86, has fallen victim to partisan politics that have nothing to do with gambling. As the bill was set for a floor vote on Thursday, it was pulled at the last second. Georgia’s Democrats rescinded their prior support in protest of unrelated voting law bills.
Even though HB 86 was introduced by a Republican, Ron Stephens from Savannah, it will require Democratic support to pass. Because a faction of conservative Republicans opposes all gambling bills on principle, Rep. Stephens was relying on bipartisan support for passage. It is unclear if a compromise can be reached.
Therefore, legislators may get to engage in one of their most cherished activities – passing the buck. Instead of the difficulty of reaching compromises on what should and should not be legalized, the legislature could simply authorize a constitutional amendment. That way, the voters themselves get to decide the hard questions.
What Would Be Georgia’s Plan?
The Georgia Senate’s plan for sports betting would call for a 16% tax on all sportsbook income. Additionally, all operators would be required to pay a $10,000 application fee and a $100,000 yearly operating fee. At least six different companies would be granted licenses, such as FanDuel and BetMGM. Individuals would be limited to $2,500 in bets per month, and no bets on credit would be taken.
Switching to an amendment process rather than a legislative one would scrap all those contemplated rules, for now. Sen. Cowsert believes that going the route of an amendment may avoid the pitfalls that have doomed all earlier attempts at legalization. Additionally, a series of amendments may revolutionize Georgia’s entire gambling landscape at once. For example, voters could decide not only whether they want legal sports betting, but also approve commercial casinos and pari-mutuel horse racing.
Two-thirds of both houses of the Georgia General Assembly would need to approve putting a constitutional amendment before the voters. As this would not actually legalize anything, sponsors may be more likely to garner the necessary support. An amendment would also squash any questions of sports betting’s constitutionality and could be placed on the November 2021 ballot.
While a constitutional amendment would delay the first legal bet in Georgia longer than legislative approval, it may be the odds-on favorite at the moment.
Stick to Gamble Online for continuing coverage of Georgia’s path towards legal wagering.