Georgia House Committee Still Tinkering with Sports Betting Legislation, but Time Nearly Up

“How many pet projects do you want me to entertain?” asked Rep. Marcus Wiedower on Wednesday.

Mar 27, 2024 • 17:23 ET • 3 min read
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Georgia lawmakers are cutting it close if they want to pass a legal sports betting bill this year — if they do indeed want to pass that kind of legislation at all.

Members of the Higher Education Committee of the Georgia House of Representatives met again on Wednesday to once more discuss possible amendments to Senate Resolution 579 and Senate Bill 386, two pieces of legislation that could authorize online sports betting in the Peach State.

Chairman Chuck Martin made it clear from the outset of the meeting that no action would be taken and that the purpose of the get-together was to provide more information about potential legislative tweaks. 

Those tweaks will have to be made Thursday, as that is when the Georgia General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn. Nevertheless, the House's Higher Education Committee is set to meet Thursday morning, so there is still hope for would-be Georgia sports bettors.  

Pet sounds

Still, in just one day, the committee needs to pass the sports betting-related measures and then the full House will need to vote on the legislation. The Senate will then need to concur with any changes or hammer out a quick compromise — and, again, before the day is done.

All of that needs to happen before sports betting in Georgia is legal.

The looming changes to S.R. 579 and S.B. 386 are still being finetuned as well. In particular, House lawmakers have a lot of ideas for how exactly the money raised by online sports betting should be spent. While all seem to agree the majority of tax revenue should flow to education, there are differences in opinion on precisely how the money will be distributed. 

“How many pet projects do you want me to entertain?” asked Rep. Marcus Wiedower, who chairs the appropriations committee. “One thing we seem to all agree upon and wrap our heads around is education and making sure there's good education for our children. And that's where I've tried to keep this money.” 

Of course, for any money to be distributed, Georgia will first need to legalize and implement online sports betting. Given that adjournment is hurtling toward lawmakers with every passing minute, there is no guarantee anything will be legalized at all. Previous efforts have fallen short as well.

Furthermore, bipartisan support will be required to pass S.R. 579, as the proposed constitutional amendment must be approved by two-thirds of lawmakers. No party has that sort of majority in either chamber.

“I don't know how I can be more bipartisan than this right now,” Wiedower quipped on Wednesday.

Cramming for finals

Nevertheless, lawmakers already had a fair amount to consider, and they will now have to wrap their heads around additional changes.

Senate Resolution 579 proposes an amendment to the Georgia constitution that would allow for sports betting in the southern state, provided that two-thirds of lawmakers approve and then a majority of voters do the same in November.

The Senate’s version of the proposed amendment stated that 80% of the tax revenue from sports betting would go toward education, including voluntary pre-kindergarten, tuition grants, and scholarships. The Senate's version also stated that 15% of proceeds were supposed to be used for problem gambling programs and that 5% be earmarked for a fund to provide financial support in attracting and hosting major sporting events.   

Based on what was said Wednesday, the House is poised to amend that distribution plan. While it has yet to be voted on, Sen. Bill Cowsert, one of the sponsors of S.R. 579, said the new vision designates 85% of tax revenue for education and then 15% of the first $150 million in proceeds for a new problem gambling fund, or as much as $22.5 million.

“Right now there are zero dollars going to this issue in the state,” Wiedower said. 

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