Georgia’s legislative session lasts through the end of March, and sports betting figures to be a hot topic in the statehouse over the next month. Two different bills were discussed in committees Thursday, and another bill to legalize sports betting in the state was discussed earlier in the week.
The bills vary in nature, with some aiming to avoid a constitutional amendment to legalize sports wagering in Georgia and one introducing a constitutional amendment.
There’s been debate among legislators and legal experts about whether sports betting requires a constitutional amendment to be legalized. If it doesn’t, it makes the road to legalization easier, with only simple majorities needed in the House and Senate to send a bill to the governor’s desk.
The topic of sports betting and gambling comes up every year in the #Georgia Legislature and every year it fails. Lawmakers are once again talking about it and hope this year is different. @FOX5Atlanta
Details: https://t.co/gOECGO5hBd pic.twitter.com/Hh8ptd2YX8
— Tyler Fingert (@TylerFingert) February 9, 2023
HB 380, which received a few recent updates, would legalize only mobile sports betting in Georgia. Other bills, such as SB 57, which was discussed on Tuesday, include retail betting options in addition to mobile legalization.
Rep. Marcus Wiedower presented HB 380 to the House Higher Education Committee Thursday morning. Wiedower shared that the bill would allow for up to 16 mobile licenses in the state, with the Georgia Lottery acting as the regulator.
“This is going to be a lottery game, simple as that. … I wanted to make sure this bill has nothing to do with horse racing, nor does it have anything to do with casinos,” Wiedower said.
SB 57 differs, as that bill does allow fixed-odds horse racing as a legal sports wager.
Under HB 380, licenses would be available for professional sports teams in the state, including the Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Falcons, and Atlanta Braves. NASCAR and the PGA Tour would also be included under designated licensees, as would the lottery, should it want to run its own mobile sportsbook. Other licenses were deemed “at-large” and could be available to sportsbook operators not partnered with the named entities.
The bill taxes sports betting at 15% of adjusted gross revenue, and like any other lottery game, tax revenue would help fund education measures in Georgia. Wagering on college sports is allowed under the bill.
Thursday’s discussion was a bit rushed, as the committee only had an hour to discuss the bill. This limited public comment and questions surrounding the bill, and the group plans to meet again Tuesday for deeper discussion.
SB 57 is also expected to be discussed more in Senate committees early next week.
Constitutional amendment route
Sen. Bill Cowsert spoke Thursday to the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, which he chairs, about SR 140 and SB 172, which work together to legalize sports betting in Georgia through a constitutional amendment. Cowsert, who has a legal background, believes that’s the necessary path to legalize sports betting in the state.
“It’s my opinion the only way to do that is with a constitutional amendment because we need to change the constitution to allow this new form of gambling,” Cowsert said. “There may be some legal technicalities, some sneaky ways to get around that by calling this a lottery game and letting it be under the scope of the lottery and under their control, but to me that is extremely deceptive to our citizenry.”
Retail sports betting would be allowed under the bill, and Cowsert’s legislation would enable the lottery to operate a mobile sportsbook while also permitting at least six other mobile operators. The tax rate is unique, with non-lottery sports betting operators paying a 25% tax rate on adjusted gross income derived from parlay bets, prop bets, and live bets. Adjusted gross income from all other wagers would be taxed at 20%.
The bill would distribute tax revenue to a variety of sources, with 50% going toward needs-based scholarships, grants, and loans in the state. Another 25% would go toward health care, mental health, and economic development initiatives in high-poverty areas in Georgia. An additional 15% goes toward problem gambling measures, including preventative efforts. The final 10% would be distributed evenly between innovative educational funding and efforts to attract and promote major sporting events in Georgia, such as all-star games and the Olympics.
Cowsert made a point that responsible gambling measures are important to him, and he plans to seek information from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission about its responsible gambling practices. He’s hopeful Georgia can be on the cutting edge of responsible gambling best practices, should the state opt to legalize sports betting in the near future.
No vote was held on the bill, which is expected to be discussed in greater detail next Thursday. Next week will be busy for Georgia legislators grappling with the framework to legalize sports betting.