Georgia Headed for Another Sports Betting Showdown in the Legislature

With the Georgia General Assembly scheduled to adjourn on Thursday, two pieces of sports betting-related legislation are still being eyed for amendments by a House of Representatives committee.

Mar 26, 2024 • 12:25 ET • 4 min read
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The latest effort to legalize sports betting in the Peach State will come down to the wire, again. 

With the Georgia General Assembly scheduled to adjourn on Thursday, two pieces of sports betting-related legislation are still being eyed for amendments by a House of Representatives committee. Any changes would then require a sign-off from the Senate before they become law.

The House’s Higher Education Committee met Monday in Atlanta and discussed possible changes for Senate Resolution 579 and Senate Bill 386.

Combined, the two measures would authorize online sports betting in Georgia through as many as 16 bookmakers, albeit only after two-thirds of lawmakers approve the proposed amendment to the state constitution and then voters do the same in November.

“I cannot think of a better time to gauge the true interest of that in the state of Georgia than that of a presidential election,” said Rep. Marcus Wiedower, a past sponsor of sports betting-related legislation, during Monday’s committee meeting. “I think we would all agree, and I think statistics will back me up 100% of the time, there's no greater turnout than that of a presidential election, which is obviously my desire of getting a [constitutional amendment] on the ballot this year, so we can kind of put this to bed.”

Yet comments made in committee suggest the House is preparing to tweak the legislation, which would then need concurrence from the Senate with just hours to spare before adjournment. There is no guarantee the House passes the measures either, which could also kill the latest sports wagering drive. Past efforts to pass sports betting bills in Georgia have failed.

Wiedower, who chairs the appropriations committee, outlined some changes that could formally come before the higher education committee for a vote on Wednesday, its next scheduled meeting date.

One of those changes would increase the tax rate in S.B. 386 to 25% of mobile sports betting revenue from its current 20%. Another would apparently prohibit operators from deducting the value of free bets and other promotional credits from their taxable income. 

Money matters

The Senate's structure of the proposed constitutional amendment would direct 80% of Georgia sports betting proceeds to the state's "Educational Opportunity Fund," which would then be spent on voluntary pre-kindergarten and tuition grants and scholarships, albeit only if the pre-K programs are first "fully funded."

The Senate version also set out that 15% of proceeds would go to a responsible gambling fund and then 5% for use in attracting and hosting major sporting events.

Higher Education Committee chairman Chuck Martin warned recently that amendments were likely, including the legislation’s provisions for how the proceeds of legal sports betting could be spent. In particular, Martin was dismissive of the 5% of tax revenue earmarked for attracting and hosting sporting events. 

Comments made Monday also suggested provisions in the proposed constitutional amendment requiring priority for pre-kindergarten funding and ensuring 15% of tax revenue went to problem gambling programs could be watered down or removed. The PG portions may be reinserted into S.B. 386, not S.R. 579. 

There is nothing in the state constitution that says lottery proceeds can fund problem gambling help, which could help account for the change in approach. The House is instead looking to give the legislature the ability to direct funding to those programs itself. It was also suggested on Monday that not all available pre-K spots are being used, which may account for removing its priority for education funding. 

“There's not that much demand for the pre-K programs,” said Sen. Bill Cowsert, one of the sponsors of S.R. 579, during the committee meeting. 

Cooperation makes it happen

Again, though, any changes to the legislation (and it sounds like there could indeed be some made by the House, even if not every suggestion is taken) will have to be approved by the Senate, or the two chambers will have to hammer out a compromise. And, again, time is running out, as the Georgia General Assembly’s 2024 legislative session is scheduled to end on Thursday. 

Passing any proposed constitutional amendment, such as that contained within S.R. 579, will require support from both parties, as a two-thirds majority is needed. 

“So that requires us to work together and negotiate together to get to the right place,” Cowsert said. 

Not all lawmakers will agree with the current legislative vision for legal sports betting. Still, Wiedower suggested Monday that it may be too late this year for any further tweaking to how money raised by wagering will be spent by the Georgia government. 

It’s also possible the regulation of sports betting and the use of the proceeds raised by wagering will be revisited during future sessions. First, however, a sports-betting bill would have to pass at all.

“We have a lot of arguments down here,” Wiedower said on Monday. “I don't think there are any that are settled more clearly than [when] we want money to go to education.”

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