Georgia Sports Betting Measures Face Obstacles With Time Running Out In Legislature

Georgia Sports Betting Measures Face Obstacles With Time Running Out In Legislature
Fact Checked by Nate Hamilton

A Georgia sports betting bill is close to reaching the endzone this year, but the state’s General Assembly is running out of time to complete the drive. That could leave proponents who want to see the Peach State become the 39th state to allow wagering frustrated after yet another missed opportunity.

Both Senate Bill 386 and Senate Resolution 579 have been read twice in the Georgia House. They would only need one more reading, but the measures must be approved by the chamber’s Higher Education Committee. However, like most issues that go through the political process, it’s not that simple.

See, on Feb. 1, the Senate approved SB 386 but added an amendment calling for voters to approve it in this November’s election. That required a resolution to create the referendum, which the body passed on Feb. 27. However, SR 579 and SB 386 aren’t quite compatible just yet.

“I have a committee substitute to sync everything together,” Sen. Bill Cowsert, the Athens Republican who sponsors SR 579, told the House Higher Education Committee on Monday.

The committee did not take any action on Cowsert’s resolution or amendment, just like it did not when Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Burford, presented his SB 386 to the panel on March 12.

The committee is scheduled to meet on Wednesday afternoon, but as of Tuesday evening, the agenda has yet to be determined.

Cowsert Says Public Deserves The Right To Vote On Sports Betting

Last month, Dixon told that he hoped a referendum could be avoided, even after his bill was amended in the Senate to require a constitutional amendment that would require voters to approve it. He and others who hope to avoid a ballot measure pointed to an opinion written by a former Georgia Supreme Court chief justice who considered sports betting a form of lottery. Since voters approved a state lottery more than 30 years ago in the Peach State, those supporters claim no vote is needed.

Cowsert, though, is not among that crowd.

“I think when you have this major of a policy shift, the public ought to be allowed to buy in, to vote on it,” Cowsert told the committee Monday. “And, I think – because it was never contemplated as a lottery game at the time that we allowed lotteries because it wasn’t permitted in the United States – that you can’t our citizens believe that we may one day start having sports betting and calling it a lottery game. The reality is our constitutional provision does not define lottery games.”

Messages to Cowsert, Dixon and House Higher Education Chair Charles Martin, R-Alpharetta, were not immediately returned on Tuesday.

More Changes Coming?

The amendment Cowsert plans to propose to the House that would reconcile his resolution with Dixon’s bill will not likely be the only change made to both measures. During Monday’s hearing, Cowsert expressed willingness to amend the tax rate on sports betting operator revenues up to 25%, which is what House members sought in their bill last year, from the 20% currently in SB 386.

As the resolution is currently written, 80% of the tax revenue generated from operators would go toward educational issues, and Cowsert also said he was amenable to incorporating that funding would go toward covering costs for pre-kindergarten programs across the state in addition to the college scholarship program already funded by Georgia Lottery revenues.

More amendments could come forward in the House when, or if, the measures are considered by the committee for a vote or on the House floor. That could include language to regulate and license fantasy sports operators in Georgia. A House bill that would have regulated those operators did not make it out of that chamber in time to be considered as a standalone measure this year.

Because the House will need to amend the measures, they will then need to go back to the Senate for members there to concur with the changes. If they do not agree, then – time permitting – members from both chambers would need to create a conference committee to hash out any differences and propose measures that could pass both chambers by next Thursday.

In addition, while bills only need to be passed by a simple majority in each chamber, resolutions calling for constitutional amendments need to clear the House and Senate with two-thirds support. That means the final version of SR 579 would need 38 yes votes in the Senate and 120 in the House.

This is not the first time Georgia lawmakers have considered legalizing sports betting and Georgia sports betting apps. Measures have been proposed since 2021, and they have yet to make it out of the Atlanta capitol building.



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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