If recent media reports are any indication, sports betting seems to be very much at the front of the minds of Georgians. Just this week, a state Senate committee discussed the financial implications of legal horse racing and sports betting, while Deputy Legislative Counsel D. Stuart Morelli submits in a legal memorandum that the legalization of sports gambling would require a constitutional amendment. Also the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a story about a former lawmaker who now works for a sports betting lobbying firm.
Lawmakers first started seriously considering sports betting in August when the Georgia Lottery hosted a pair of meetings that included representatives from the city’s professional sports teams.
The conversation will continue in a state has no casino or gaming infrastructure.
Voter approval may be needed
We thought all of these revelations deserved a little closer look, so here goes:
- The Senate Gaming and Parimutuel Wagering on Horse Racing and Growing Georgia’s Equine Industry Study Committee met Tuesday, according to CenterSquare, and debated the pros and cons of sports betting. The arguments were nothing new — proponents touted a new revenue stream while opponents shared concerns about negative social issues. The committee offer no opinion on how to proceed. “We just really have a lot of questions on how this industry works,” Committee Chairman Senator Brandon Beach told Center Square. Beach has been championing sports betting in Georgia.
WATCH the second meeting of the Georgia Senate Study Committee on Gaming and Pari-mutual Wagering on Horse Racing and Growing Georgia's Equine Industry. https://t.co/VfBGqF6mXe
— Rahul Bali (@rahulbali) October 8, 2019
- On Oct. 1, Georgia’s Office of Legislative Counsel released its opinion that voters would need to amend the state constitution to legalize sports betting. Lawmakers had likely been hoping that it would take only a simple majority in the state legislature to legalize, but this latest opinion clearly points to taking the issue to the voters. According to the Saporta Report, the cleanest way to legalize is by referendum, which would require two-thirds approval by the House and Senate AND majority approval by state voters. The need for a referendum would likely set back any aspirations for Georgia to legalize in the next year.
- The AJC on Tuesday published a story revealing that former State Representative Earl Ehrhart is now the CEO of Taylor English Decisions, a lobbying firm that counts the Atlanta Braves among its clients. According to the paper, which calls into question a possible cozy relationship between Ehrhart’s prior colleagues, noting “the firm was hired by the Atlanta Braves to persuade the Legislature to expand the state’s gambling laws to allow sports betting.” Ehrhart’s wife, Ginny, replaced him in the House, and she’s on the study committee for sports betting mentioned above.
Georgia well positioned geographically
Given all the conversation, it seems likely that Georgia lawmakers will take a serious stab at legalizing sports betting when the next session opens in mid-January 2020. Three sports betting related bills, including one that proposed a constitutional amendment, were introduced during the 2019 legislative session, but none got to a floor vote on either the House or Senate side.
BREAKING LIVE: Largest sports bet in history made by Mattress Mack. He bet $3.5 Million that the Houston Astros will win the World Series. Sports betting was legalized in the state of Mississippi this past year.https://t.co/sOORJdbPKb
— CBS 42 (@CBS_42) October 1, 2019
Some Southern states, including Arkansas, Mississippi, and West Virginia, have been quick to embrace sports betting. In fact, Mississippi was the was the third state to launch sports betting behind Delaware and New Jersey in 2018. West Virginia wasn’t far behind, though its sportsbooks had some issues with vendors resulting in a slow rollout. And Arkansas voters legalized sports betting via referendum last November and the first legal bets were taken in July 2019.
But Georgia sits in a unique spot — only one of its border states has legal sports betting, and Atlanta is by far the biggest city within a 650-mile radius. Tennessee in July became the first state to legalize mobile-only sports betting and to require the use of “official league data” in settling bets. And Alabama and Florida don’t appear poised to legalize anytime soon, while North Carolina will allow only on-site wagering at a pair of tribal casinos away from large population centers.