Georgia Senate Passes Sports Betting Bill, Includes Need for Voter Approval

Voters could have the last word on whether online sports betting is legalized in Georgia this year, even if some lawmakers don't see the need.

Feb 1, 2024 • 13:22 ET • 4 min read
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Voters could have the last word on whether online sports betting is legalized in Georgia this year, even if some lawmakers don't see the need.

The Georgia Senate met Thursday and, on a 35-15 vote in favor, passed S.B. 386, which would legalize online sports betting through as many as 16 different bookmakers.

However, before the bill was passed, an amendment was approved by a majority of senators to include the need for an amendment to Georgia’s constitution, which means voters in the state would have to approve mobile wagering at the ballot box. That is, of course, if S.B. 386 passes the Georgia House of Representatives unamended, which might not happen. 

“It is fair to the people of Georgia,” said Sen. Bill Cowsert, a member of the pro-amendment crowd, during debate on S.B. 386 on Thursday. “It does not undermine the purposes and objectives of this bill. And I think it is the appropriate way to do it.”

Cowsert's stance was unsurprising, as he is a sponsor of a separate piece of sports betting-related legislation, S.B. 172 that aims to legalize sports betting in Georgia with a constitutional amendment. 

The original version of S.B. 386 did not include the requirement for a constitutional amendment. Instead, the bill envisioned the Georgia Lottery Corp. as the regulator and licensing entity for the “lottery game of sports betting,” which the legislation said the state constitution already permitted. 

The need for a constitutional amendment was debated on Thursday in the Senate before it was ultimately included in the bill by a 34-7 vote in favor.

"A vote for this is a vote to have this struck down in our court system," Sen. Ed Setzler said in support of the amendment. "And I think we owe it to our constituents to do better than that."

'Already happening'

S.B. 386 can now only take effect after voters approve an amendment to the state constitution allowing sports betting, which could happen as early as November. And, again, it could never take effect if an identical version of the bill is not approved by both chambers before adjournment in late March. 

Previous attempts to pass legal sports betting legislation in Georgia have failed. An effort last year stalled due to questions about the need for a constitutional amendment and sudden opposition from Democrats that was triggered by Republicans pushing for limits on healthcare treatments for transgender youth.

S.B. 386 has bipartisan support. And, despite Thursday’s major amendment, most of the bill remains unchanged. If it becomes law, it would legalize online sports betting in Georgia and allow as many as 16 licenses to be awarded to professional sports organizations, online sportsbook operators, and the lottery itself. 

"I have a newsflash: sports betting is already happening here in Georgia," said Sen. Brandon Beach, a co-sponsor of S.B. 386 who opposed the constitutional amendment requirement. "It's just unregulated, it's easily accessible to minors, it lacks responsible gaming safeguards, and it generates zero revenue for the state of Georgia."

The children are our futures

The proposed tax rate for online sports betting revenue would be 20%, and the money raised would go to fund education in the state, such as pre-kindergarten programs and post-secondary HOPE scholarships. S.B. 386 would set the minimum legal age for sports wagering at 21 and ban the use of credit cards for wagering. 

“A vote for this bill is a vote for kids,” Sen. Derek Mallow said Thursday.

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