Georgia Senate Passes Sports Betting Bill

Dave Williams

Friday, February 2nd, 2024

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The state Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation Thursday to legalize sports betting in Georgia, but only after approving a major change in the bill that would require a statewide referendum on the measure.

Under Senate Bill 386, which passed 35-15, the Georgia Lottery Corp. would oversee sports betting, awarding licenses to 16 online sports betting providers.

Five licenses would go to Atlanta’s pro sports teams: the Braves, Falcons, Hawks, Dream, and Atlanta United. The Augusta National Golf Club, the Professional Golf Association (PGA), and the Atlanta Motor Speedway would receive one license each.

Seven licenses would be open to sports betting providers through an application process overseen by lottery officials. The lottery corporation also would receive one license.

The bill calls for 20% of the adjusted gross revenues derived from sports betting to go toward Georgia’s HOPE Scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs.

The bill’s supporters argued sports betting is happening already in Georgia without any ability for the state to regulate the industry or obtain tax revenue from betting. If legalized, sports betting would provide at least $100 million a year to HOPE and pre-k.

“It is a new funding source,” said Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta. “We are leaving a new source of funding on the table if we don’t move forward.”

The original bill, sponsored by Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Buford, would legalize sports betting without taking the issue to Georgia voters in the form of a constitutional amendment. Changing the state’s constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate, supermajorities sports betting supporters have been unable to muster during past legislative sessions.

But legalizing sports betting should require a constitutional amendment, just as the Georgia Lottery did when the General Assembly approved the lottery back in the early 1990s, said Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens.

Cowsert, who is sponsoring separate sports betting legislation that would require a constitutional change, amended Dixon’s bill on the Senate floor Thursday to mandate a constitutional amendment before sports betting could become law in Georgia.

Cowsert said sports betting was never contemplated in the 1992 referendum Georgia voters approved creating the lottery.

“There’s no way the people of Georgia … believed it would authorize the General Assembly to say sports betting is a lottery game,” he said. “To pass this bill without making it contingent on the voters is disingenuous at best.”

Senators approved Cowsert’s amendment 30-17 before passing the underlying bill. The legislation now moves to the state House of Representatives.