Georgia, a state with no legal gambling other than a successful and popular state lottery, has flirted with legalizing online sports betting for the past several years. Legislative efforts in 2021 have progressed further than any time in the past. But several obstacles remain before bettors in the Peach state will be opening their sportsbook apps to place a wager on the Braves or Falcons.
This is the place to find information on the history of gambling in Georgia (or lack thereof), the latest legislative efforts to legalize online sports betting in the state, and what a potential legal market could look like. Let’s get started.
Best Legal Sports Betting Sites in Georgia
GA sports betting legislative outlook
Because of Georgia’s history of opposition to legalized gambling, proponents of casino and sports betting in the state have always had an uphill battle to convince leaders that it’s time. For years now developers and casino executives have been dazzling local and state government officials with exciting presentations of casino resorts and the robust tax revenue they would surely provide. The problem they have faced is that any expansion of gambling in the state would require a public vote by referendum.
Opponents of gambling haven’t had much trouble rallying people to their cause. Religious opposition in particular argues that any sort of gambling is immoral and will lead to societal problems. It’s just not worth the additional tax revenue, they say. Since a large segment of the Georgia population is religious, this argument carries a lot of weight. The people haven’t wanted casinos in their state or local community.
But here’s the catch: online sports betting legislation doesn’t need casinos. It would simply legalize something that people have been doing illegally for decades. Plus, the resulting tax revenue would help even more young people in the state further their education. That argument has gotten a lot of attention of late, and several state legislative leaders have come around to the idea of online sports betting. In 2021, legislators in both the GA House and Senate have introduced legislation to legalize online sports betting. There have been some hiccups, but the fact is that Georgia has gotten closer to legalizing online sports betting than it ever has before, and there is a good chance that it could be coming to the state within the next few years.
In early 2021, hope for legalized online sports betting among supporters was running high. Rep. Bill Stephens introduced a bill, H.B. 86, that would authorize online sports betting with the state Lottery Commission being the regulator. Operators would be taxed at 14 percent and proceeds would go toward education programs, similar to the state lottery. This seemed like a reasonable bill that would classify sports betting as a lottery-style game in order to avoid the need to put the issue to a public vote. Similar legislation was introduced in the Senate.
While it’s true that similar legislation was introduced in the Senate, that original legislation was modified after a committee hearing and now is far from the lottery-regulated model advocated by Rep. Stephens. Senator Bill Cowsert had originally proposed that the state Lottery Commission regulate online sports betting, but after conversations and additional feedback he changed his mind and now believes that it would be a “stretch” to call sports betting a “lottery game.” His new strategy is to pass legislation that would present a referendum to Georgia voters in November 2022 asking them to amend the state constitution to legalize sports betting. If the voters approve the referendum, the state would proceed with creating a regulatory structure for online sports betting in the state. Operators would then apply for licenses and, once approved, sports betting would likely go live in the state sometime in 2023.
Senator Cowsert and Representative Stephens have taken their positions on the issue. If both legislative proposals passed their respective houses, a compromise would have to be worked out. Then, the compromise legislation would have to be passed again by each body, after which the Governor would have to sign the compromise legislation into law. All this would have to be done before the April 12, 2021 scheduled adjournment date. That would be challenging under normal circumstances. Add the political dynamics surrounding Republican efforts to enact tougher voting laws, and you have a potentially insurmountable delay.
While both the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans, some conservative state legislators are consistently opposed to any legislation that would expand gambling in the state. As such, Republican legislators who support online sports betting must rely on the support of their Democratic counterparts to ensure passage of the legislation. Because of this, Democrats have leverage, and can hold up sports betting legalization and other Republican priorities in order to support or oppose bills that are of importance to them.
One controversial issue of importance to both parties in the state is access to voting. Republicans want to limit access to voting and ensure that the voting process is, in their opinion, secure and free from undue influence. Democrats in the state are vehemently opposed to these legislative proposals, saying that any limitations on access to voting will disproportionately affect minorities. As such, they have decided to withhold their support for pending bipartisan legislation, including Rep. Stephens’ sports betting bill.
This previously unforeseen development is a big problem for efforts to bring online sports betting to the state in 2021 or even 2022. It remains unclear whether both sides will come together to resolve this issue before adjournment in April. If they are unable to come up with an agreement and the legislation does not pass, eager sports bettors in Georgia will have to wait at least another year before online sports betting will be considered by the state legislature.
The latest Georgia news
Despite plenty of support both in and out of the capitol, sports betting is a political casualty of Georgia's new voting-rights law.
Democrats want Republicans to give on needs-based scholarships and minority participation in order to legalize.
Legislators have apparently determined that amending the Georgia constitution was the only legal way to legalize.
Potential Georgia online sportsbooks
It remains to be seen whether a resolution can be reached that will result in online sports betting in the state within the next year or so, but even if legislators don’t end up coming to an agreement, it is reasonable to assume that online sports betting will make its way to Georgia at some point in the future. When it does, this information about all the potential rules, operators, and banking options available will help you be ready to open an account and start betting.
Neighboring Tennessee went live in 2020 with an online-only model, becoming the first state to offer online sports betting without any retail casinos. Since Georgia has been exploring a similar model, the eventual lineup may end up looking quite similar. Potential GA sportsbook operators include (but aren’t limited to):
Possible rules for GA betting
Talking about the potential rules of sports betting in Georgia may be a bit of a stretch at this point in time, but let’s go for it anyway. These potential rules come from the sports betting legislation that has been introduced so far in 2021. Many of the proposed rules are standard in every state, so they will likely be included in whatever regulatory structure ends up in place in Georgia.
- Self-exclusion – Operators will be required to have procedures in place to allow people to exclude themselves from using their service and/or place limits on amounts wagered. Responsible gaming is extremely important within the legal iGaming industry.
- 21+ – Bettors in the state must be 21 or older to legally place wagers.
- Located in the state – Bettors must be physically in the state of Georgia to legally place a wager. This is determined by using geolocation software that can be downloaded onto your laptop or authorized to be used on your smartphone. Anyone physically present in the state can bet; you don’t have to be a resident of Georgia to create an account and wager. This is good news for the millions of people traveling through the state on I-95 or I-75, or who are there on a layover at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
- Remote registration – It is likely that online registration will be the norm. This one seems obvious… if there are no casinos in the state, how could you even register in-person? Good question, but remote vs. in-person registration is still an issue, even in 2021. In-person registration is required in some states, including Nevada and Illinois (remote registration is temporarily allowed in IL because of COVID restrictions in the state).
- Online-only wagering – Brick-and-mortar casinos are not expected to come to Georgia anytime soon, so there will not be any casino partnerships in the state. Casino companies that offer online sportsbooks (Caesars, MGM, etc.) will likely enter the market, but that will be the extent of their presence in the state.
- Betting on college teams – This one is a bit murky. Rep. Stephens’ bill prohibited betting on any college sports altogether, not just Georgia-based teams. Senator Cowsert’s original bill allowed betting on college teams outside of Georgia. All that said, it is reasonable to assume that bettors will be unable to bet on the Bulldogs or Yellow Jackets if/when sports betting comes to the state. This stipulation serves to protect local, amateur athletes from external pressures.
Offered markets and bet types
The number of different sports offered by the online bookmakers operating in Georgia is potentially…all of them! Why not? Sportsbooks already offer wagering opportunities on sports all over the world, from cricket to darts to rugby. In 2-3 years there may be even more sports to bet on. Let’s shoot for the stars! Expect all mainstream U.S. offerings, NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, etc., plus plenty of niche items.
As for types of bets offered, this will likely be determined by the future regulatory body in the state. Most states include types of bets allowed in their official rules and regulations, so operators in Georgia would likely be authorized to offer most or all of the following bet types:
Options for deposits and withdrawals vary by state, but the most common banking methods include:
- Credit/debit cards
- Electronic bank transfer
- Online mobile payment systems (PayPal, etc.)
- Other methods approved by the operator (branded prepaid cards, etc.)
- Old-fashioned paper checks
Why use a legal sportsbook?
Georgians are already betting on sports, either by going through a local bookie or using an offshore online operator. A few folks in the northern part of the state may run over to Tennessee on the weekends to get their bets in. However they are doing it, let’s not pretend that it isn’t happening. Many people want to legally bet but are currently unable to do so.
There are many reasons why bettors should use a legal online sportsbook for their wagering. True, that isn’t possible in Georgia right now, but it is in other states and will be one day in the Peach state. Let’s go over a few reasons why it is a good idea to use a legal sportsbook.
Security/Peace of Mind
An offshore book or local bookie will likely be happy to take your “deposit.” They make it really easy for you to give them your money to use for a wager. But when you win, are they just as reliable to pay you out? What recourse do you have if they simply choose not to pay? Very little, to be honest. Contrast that with a legal sportsbook that is regulated in the state(s) in which it does business. Your money is safe, secure, and available for withdrawal upon operator approval.
Does Joe Bookie match your first deposit? Unlikely. Will he let you bet again if your first bet loses? Hah. Good luck with that. You know who will match your first deposit? You know who will give you a free bet if your first bet loses? Legal sportsbooks will. Legal, regulated sportsbooks compete for your business. They all offer some sort of promotion for new users. Since Georgia will have several operators, you will easily be able to find the promotion that suits your particular gambling interests.
It appears that Georgia will be an open, competitive market. At least six licenses will be up for grabs, and it is possible that a dozen or more operators will end up going live in the state. This is great news for bettors. If several operators are in a state, they have to compete for market share. This results in valuable promotions being offered to entice new customers to sign up. Some operators may have better lines, some might offer better ongoing promotions, while others might be focused on offering the widest variety of sports. Maybe you really like futures bets. All books have futures bets available, but with at least six online sportsbooks available in the state, you will be able to shop around to find the best price and value. The betting options are almost endless when there are multiple operators competing for your business.
Everyone has a smartphone these days. To paraphrase what has likely been a cell phone company ad, “the future is mobile.” If that hasn’t been on an ad yet, it should be. Anyway, it’s actually good that Georgia is planning to go mobile-only for its sports betting legalization plan, because mobile betting (browser and mobile) makes up over 90 percent of all the sports betting revenue generated in some states. Georgia doesn’t need casinos to generate millions of dollars in revenue for its education programs.
Mobile betting also benefits bettors. Similar to betting options in a competitive market, each operator has a different app. Some are definitely better than others. In fact, SportsHandle even has a review and ranking of all the biggest sportsbook mobile apps. Many of the top-rated apps will likely be available in Georgia. Bettors have clearly shown their preference for mobile betting. The future is here, and it’s mobile.
History of gambling in Georgia
Back in the mid-1800s, there wasn’t much to gamble on. Horse racing was just getting started, all the major sports hadn’t been invented yet, and people didn’t exactly have much free time or disposable income. But the lottery did exist in the 1800s and it took the southern states by storm. The only problem was that it was notoriously corrupt. As the corruption took root and people realized the game was rigged, religious leaders appealed to state legislatures to prohibit lotteries on moral grounds. State political leaders took heed, and in 1878 Georgia joined many other states in banning all types of gambling, including lotteries.
Unlike other states that loosened up their restrictions on lotteries and gambling, Georgia stood firm and continued to prohibit all forms of gambling for almost 100 years, until it legalized charity bingo and raffles in 1976. By the 1970s, many states had state-run lotteries in addition to horse racing and other types of gambling. Georgia did not. But in 1992, the state decided it was time to expand gambling and introduced a state-run lottery that would fund educational opportunities in the state. The lottery has proven to be extremely popular and successful, and the revenue generated from it has provided thousands of young Georgians with the opportunity to go to college through the HOPE scholarship program. It remains the only legal gambling option in the state.
You may be able to get on the phone with a customer support representative at an offshore sportsbook, but what motivation do they have to solve your problem? They already have your money. You have no recourse if they don’t resolve the issue you called or emailed about. There is no regulatory agency to register a complaint with.
Compare that with a legal, regulated sportsbook. They are highly motivated to solve your problem because if their customer service is not up to your standards, you have the option to withdraw your money and take your business elsewhere. And they are required to cash you out under the rules in which they operate. Legal sportsbooks generally have excellent customer service and are usually able to resolve even the most complicated issue because they want to keep your business. FAQs, phone, live chat, and email support are the primary methods used to communicate with legal online sportsbooks.