Georgia Sports Betting Bill Clears Committee But Requires A Constitutional Amendment

Georgia Sports Betting Bill Clears Committee But Requires A Constitutional Amendment
Fact Checked by Nate Hamilton

A bill to legalize Georgia sports betting has passed a legislative committee, but it still faces an uphill journey to make it out of the General Assembly this year.

On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries and Utilities passed Senate Bill 172 by an 8-4 vote. The bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, would allow Georgia to license at least six sports betting operators. However, it would only take effect if lawmakers pass a constitutional amendment that voters approve on the November ballot.

The amendment contingency makes Cowsert’s measure different from other bills likely to be considered by Georgia that eschew the amendment process. Last year, former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton penned an opinion that claimed an amendment wasn’t necessary because sports betting could be considered a lottery.

However, Cowsert considers the amendment process to be “the safe play” since legislative action alone, he said, would lead to a lengthy court battle. He also told committee members that it may be a safer option, politically, too, as some lawmakers whose constituents oppose gaming may be more willing to authorize a referendum.

“I think it’s the right thing to do to let the people decide when you’re making a major policy change,” he said.

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Lt. Gov. Burt Jones: ‘An Easy Lift’

Cowsert’s bill failed to advance in the Georgia General Assembly last year, joining the ranks of similar measures offered in recent years. However, supportive lawmakers and other proponents, including the state’s major professional franchises, are hopeful this can be the year Georgia joins 38 other states – including neighboring Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee – and the District of Columbia that have legalized sports betting.

Sports betting isn’t the only gambling measure being considered by lawmakers. Others have tried to tie legalizing casino resorts and horse racing along with sportsbooks.

“Sports betting is something that should be an easy lift,” Lt. Gov. Burt Jones told Capitol Beat in November. “It’s probably the most popular of the three arenas of gambling we’ve talked about.”

Jones, a former Georgia Bulldogs football player, proposed legislation four years ago when he served as a senator to have the Georgia Lottery Corporation oversee sports betting. As lieutenant governor, he now presides over the chamber.

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Parlays, Prop Bet Revenues Face Higher Tax

Cowsert’s bill itself is just enacting legislation, meaning it would need an accompanying constitutional amendment measure to advance. While his bill only requires a simple majority to pass, a two-thirds majority in both chambers must approve the proposed amendment.

Besides needing a constitutional amendment, Cowsert’s Georgia sports betting bill has a twist not seen in other measures. SB172 has a tiered tax system that levies a higher rate on revenues generated from parlays, prop bets, and live-game wagers. Sportsbooks would be taxed at 25% on revenues from those higher-margin bets and 20% on revenues from standards wagers.

Seven states have a tax rate of 20% or more on sports betting operator revenues. Of those, Massachusetts and New York have a lower tax rate for brick-and-mortar operations.

Monday marked the start of the Georgia General Assembly session. Lawmakers will meet for 40 days this year, with the session likely to end in late March. For any bill to become law, it must pass in its original chamber no later than the 28th day of the session. While not set, that date is expected to occur in early March.

BetGeorgia.com will continue to monitor the events in Atlanta and provide updates on the latest developments. Be sure to bookmark our Georgia sportsbook apps page and familiarize yourself with the best sportsbooks expected to come to the Peach State.

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Author

Steve is an accomplished, award-winning reporter with more than 20 years of experience covering gaming, sports, politics and business. He has written for the Associated Press, Reuters, The Louisville Courier Journal, The Center Square and numerous other publications. Based in Louisville, Ky., Steve has covered the expansion of sports betting in the U.S. and other gaming matters.

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