The perhaps last, best hope for legalizing online sports betting sites in the Peach State this year is making progress in the Georgia legislature.
House Bill 237, which used to be soap box derby-related legislation, received its second reading in the Georgia Senate on Monday, another procedural step that moves it closer to potentially becoming law.
The bill needs a third reading and must then return to the state’s House of Representatives for approval of its amendments. At that point, the legislation could head to the governor’s desk for a signature.
Still, H.B. 237, as it is now written, would authorize Georgia sports betting through as many as 16 online sportsbooks. Bettors would have to be 21 or older and physically located in the state to wager.
The other Sweet 16
Wagering would be overseen by the Georgia Lottery Corp. "in a manner that provides continuing entertainment to the public, maximizes revenues, and ensures that sports betting is operated in this state with integrity and dignity and free of political influence," the legislation now states.
As many as 16 online sports betting licenses could be awarded in Georgia under the bill's provisions. Holders of a so-called "Type 1" license would be required to pay a $100,000 application fee and an annual licensing fee of either $750,000 or $1 million, depending on the entity conducting the wagering operations. The state would apply a tax on online sports betting revenue of 22%, which would help fund education.
Licenses would be available for the lottery, professional sports organizations, and facilities, including Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters golf tournament. Those entities could partner with DraftKings, FanDuel, or another online sportsbook operator to conduct mobile wagering on their behalf. Operators are eligible for online sports betting licenses on their own as well.
Permits could not be issued until Sept. 1, 2023, which would still allow for wagering on the upcoming football season. All operators would be allowed to launch on the same day, and the first day of authorized wagering could be no later than Jan. 31, 2024.
A soap-box start
The bill would also allow sports betting without requiring an amendment to Georgia's constitution, which has been a matter of debate in the legislature.
Georgia remains one of the shrinking numbers of states without legal sports betting. Nevertheless, recent geolocation data suggests some residents would be interested in authorized online sports betting sites, as they are already driving to Tennessee or other states to make wagers.
That said, several pieces of sports betting-related legislation have failed during this Georgia legislative session, and the latest effort has unique roots that could prompt pushback. Indeed, the recent decision to gut a soap box derby bill and insert a sports-betting bill in its place is already rubbing some lawmakers the wrong way.
“When you hijack a soapbox derby and put sports betting on the back of it, every person that was on the fence in the state of Georgia has just now picked a side of the fence,” Sen. Mike Dugan said recently, according to the Associated Press. “So I can’t support this.”