Georgia House Committee Takes Up Sports Betting

Dave Williams

Wednesday, March 20th, 2024

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A proposed constitutional amendment the state Senate passed late last month letting Georgia voters decide whether to legalize sports betting got its first hearing in the state House of Representatives Monday.

While Georgia lawmakers have considered bills in recent years calling for legalizing sports betting by statute without changing the state Constitution, a statewide referendum should be the preferred route for the General Assembly, Sen. Bill Cowsert, the legislation’s chief sponsor told members of the House Higher Education Committee.

“When you have this major a policy shift, the public ought to be allowed a buy-in, to vote on it,” said Cowsert, R-Athens.

The constitutional amendment would create a gaming commission overseen by the Georgia Lottery Corp. to regulate sports betting. The state would receive 20% of the adjusted gross revenues sports betting generates.

Of that amount, 80% would be dedicated to Georgia’s HOPE Scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs. Fifteen percent would go into a fund to educate Georgians about the dangers of problem gambling.

While the other 5% would be used to market sporting events to be held in Georgia, committee Chairman Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, said Monday that he plans to remove that provision from the measure. He said those organizations interested in state support for sports marketing should be required to compete for those funds through the budget process.

Cowsert said setting aside dedicated funding for prevention and treatment of problem gambling is an approach few states that have legalized sports betting have taken.

“Young males are especially (likely) to become compulsive gamers,” he said.

While some supporters of sports betting have predicted it could generate up to $100 million or more each year in Georgia, Cowsert said it likely won’t produce more than $50 million in annual revenue.

That prompted some committee members to ask why the state would bother with legalizing the industry.

“Constituents want it. The sports teams want it,” Cowsert answered. “You don’t do this for the money.”

However, Cowsert went on to argue that sports betting would help promote fan interest in Atlanta’s pro sports teams, which have been among the legislation’s strongest backers.

“The teams want it badly,” he said. “Viewers of sports are more engaged if they have money on the game.”

The constitutional amendment is accompanied by an “enabling” bill, which the Senate also passed last month. The enabling measure includes details of how sports betting would be regulated in Georgia, including the process for awarding licenses to bookmakers.

Time is running short for both measures. The 2024 General Assembly session will wrap up next week.