Georgia Senate’s Sports Betting Resolution Sounds Headed for House Amendments

If there are amendments, it could take time to get Georgia lawmakers to concur on the changes, and there is only so much time left in this legislative session.

Mar 18, 2024 • 19:00 ET • 4 min read
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The latest bid to legalize sports betting in the Peach State may need to prune what appeared to be a relatively harmless provision before the measure can make further progress, among other potential changes.

Members of the Higher Education Committee of the Georgia House of Representatives met Monday and considered Senate Resolution 579. 

The resolution proposes an amendment to the Georgia constitution that would permit lawmakers to legalize and authorize sports betting in the southern state.

Promote yourself

S.R. 579 also sets out that 80% of the money raised by legal sports betting will flow to a fund for education, 15% will be deposited into a responsible gambling fund, and 5% will be earmarked for a "Sports Promotion Fund" to help cover the costs of attracting and hosting major sporting events.

More specifically, the sports promotion fund will provide money “for the advancement of sports in the state, including, but not limited to, the costs and expenses associated with soliciting, promoting, honoring through sports halls of fame, sponsoring, and hosting regional, national, and international sporting events within this state.” 

According to Republican Sen. Bill Cowsert, one of the resolution's sponsors, the promotion fund “came at the request of the Atlanta sports teams.”

It looked like a relatively uncontroversial provision. However, the section was panned by Rep. Chuck Martin, the chairman of the higher education committee. 

“You can move on past that one,” Martin said as Cowsert began to explain the section. 

Later, Martin said he and others take issue with the provision, as it is for the legislature to decide whether to appropriate money in any given year to attract a World Cup or other event to the state.

“It is the chair's opinion… that you should come in and compete for that every year in a budget process like every other dollar,” said Martin, who had noted earlier in the meeting that the resolution “doesn't quite agree with the enabling legislation,” and so some changes could be coming to the resolution, the bill, or both. 

Based on comments made by the chair later in the meeting, that could include ensuring funding for problem gambling in a prominent place in the state constitution. The Georgia constitution earmarks lottery proceeds for educational programs in five different categories, such as scholarships and voluntary pre-kindergarten. Martin said he'd like to see problem gambling education no lower than third on that list.

Buddy bill

S.R. 579 is being considered by lawmakers in addition to Senate Bill 386, which was passed by the chamber on Feb. 1 and is further awaiting action in the House. 

S.B. 386 would legalize online sports betting through as many as 16 bookmakers but would only take effect on Jan. 1, 2025, after the ratification of a constitutional amendment like the one proposed by S.R. 579.

First, however, two-thirds of lawmakers would need to approve the resolution and a majority of voters would have to vote “yes” to the following question:

“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize the General Assembly to provide by law for sports betting in this state and to provide for such proceeds to be used for educational funding for pre-kindergarten and HOPE scholarships, services for gambling addiction, and the advancement and promotion of sports in this state?"

As the eighth-most populous state in the U.S., Georgia legalizing sports betting would be a material win for the gambling industry in a year that may not produce many legislative victories. 

That said, if there is an amendment to S.R. 579 or S.B. 386, the Senate may need to concur with those changes, or the two chambers would have to work out a compromise. They’d also have to do so quickly, as the Georgia General Assembly’s 2024 legislative session is scheduled to end on March 28. 

Why do it at all?

Cowsert said he was flexible about where the money raised by Georgia sports betting could go, as it would be a relatively “insignificant amount” of around $50 million a year for the state. The senator was then asked what the purpose of legalizing sports betting was, if the state was not going to make serious money and would still have problem gambling.

"Constituents want it," Cowsert said. "All the sports teams want it. A whole bunch of other states are doing this because it is so popular in American culture. And particularly in the SEC, in the South… we have been betting on college football and pro football in our state, in our region, for generations."

No vote was taken on the resolution on Monday. Further action on the measure may have to wait until a meeting on Wednesday.

“Democracy is a pretty powerful thing,” Cowsert said. “And I don't think you can rightly criticize allowing the citizens of this state to decide what they do or do not want. They might make a bad choice, they might make a good choice. But it is not always appropriate for us to dictate our will on them, especially on huge policy issues like this.”

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