Efforts to legalize sports betting in Georgia seemed to die on the state legislature’s crossover day in early March, only to be resuscitated shortly afterward. Wednesday night and into the early hours of Thursday morning, however, the attempt to legalize sports wagering in Georgia in 2023 officially came to an end.
Georgia’s legislative session concluded early Thursday, and HB 237 wasn’t even discussed by the Senate. The bill needed to be approved by both the Senate and House on Wednesday for sports wagering to move forward.
SINE DIE 2023: The Georgia State Senate adjourns without taking votes on a number of bills including online sports betting, defining antisemitism in state law, expanding housing tenant rights and a complete ban on car booting. #gapol pic.twitter.com/vm5Vib97vO
— Rahul Bali (@rahulbali) March 30, 2023
The bill, which originally related to designating an official soap box derby before being gutted for sports wagering language, would have brought up to 16 mobile sports betting operators to Georgia. The Georgia Lottery would have served as the state’s sports betting regulator, and adjusted gross revenue would have been taxed at 22%.
Numerous unsuccessful bills
HB 237 isn’t alone in failing to bring sports betting to Georgia, as several other bills during the 2023 legislative session also failed to gain traction.
SR 140 and its enabling legislation, SB 172, aimed to bring sports betting to Georgia through a constitutional amendment. Sen. Bill Cowsert sponsored the bill, which placed a focus on responsible gambling measures. If it had been successful, it would have put legalization of sports betting in the hands of voters in 2024.
“I don’t get why it’s wrong to let the people of Georgia vote on this issue,” Cowsert said at a Senate hearing. “We’re not little mini-dictators up here, dictating what the policy will always be.”
SB 57 didn’t require a constitutional amendment, but it did include language on fixed-odds betting on horse racing. That turned off some legislators, as Georgia’s legislators seem more willing to consider sports betting than horse betting.
HB 380, which was similar to HB 237 in some regards, failed to move in the House despite the backing of major sports betting operators.
Reasons for failure
In North Carolina, a single sports betting bill moved through the House on Wednesday. That bill, which has bipartisan support, combined ideas from multiple stakeholders. Georgia’s legislature hasn’t had nearly the same level of agreement.
It became a challenge for Georgia to move forward with sports betting in part because stakeholders were split on how to best legalize. The debate over the need for a constitutional amendment divided support between bills. One bill focused more on horse racing than sports, which some disliked.
In the end, there wasn’t a consensus on how to best move forward with legal sports betting. Toward the end of the session, Cowsert brought forward an effort to study expanded gambling in Georgia. His hope was to better outline how the state could move forward in 2024 and beyond to expand gambling, although no action was taken on SR 394 either.
Additionally, moral objections to gambling played a role in bill failures. Numerous legislators simply feel uncomfortable bringing legal sports betting to Georgia, believing that gambling can lead to widespread addiction and would harm their constituents.
“One argument that I hear quite frequently in favor of this legislation is, ‘Well, it’s already happening in our state, so we might as well get the revenue from it,’” Mack Parnell, executive director for the Georgia Faith and Freedom Coalition, said at one hearing. “I would say there are a lot of things that are happening in our state, but that doesn’t mean the state should embrace it. … Fentanyl, for example: Just because that’s happening in our state and devastating communities doesn’t mean the state should embrace it.”
Some legislators seem to agree with Parnell’s viewpoints, fearing what could happen should widespread gambling be accepted.
Finally, sports betting often becomes a political football in Georgia. By the end of the 2023 legislative session, Democrats opposed the expansion of wagering in the state in part because of Republicans ushering through a bill related to transgender youth health care.
Several factors doomed sports betting legalization efforts in 2023, and many of those concerns will carry over to the attempts to come in 2024.