A Georgia lawmaker has introduced a new bill that seeks to legalize mobile sports betting without the need for a constitutional amendment. House Bill 380, the “Georgia Lottery Game of Sports Betting Act,” would authorize the Georgia Lottery Corp. to operate and regulate sports wagering in the Peach State.
Under the proposal, revenue from the activity would go to educational programs under the Georgia Lottery, including the HOPE Scholarship and Pre-K education. Simultaneously, state senators are considering a separate measure, Senate Bill 57, the “Georgia Sports Betting Integrity Act,” which would explicitly include horse racing as part of sports gambling. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Hickman, would also authorize three racing tracks with betting statewide.
“HB 380 would allow sports betting to become legal and bring Georgia in line with 36 other states across the country that have already taken this step,” state Rep. Marcus Wiedower, R-Watkinsville, said in an announcement, retrieved by The Center Square. “Sports betting is already occurring in our state. Legalizing this activity could generate tens of millions of dollars in additional education funding for our state if properly regulated.”
Wiedower estimates that legalized sports betting could generate roughly $50-75 million in revenue. “I would be surprised if we did not pass online sports betting this year,” state Sen. Jason Esteves, D-Atlanta, said during a virtual town hall, as per the cited media source. “…It’s an industry that continues to grow, and we’re going to continue to hear it until something passes.”
The push to legalize sports betting is unique as it has proponents and detractors on both sides of the aisle, and any vote likely will not fall along party lines. “There is no clear path to the majority on this because both caucuses are very split,” state Rep. Betsy Holland, D-Atlanta, pointed out. “There’s a real chasm on both sides, so it’s a really difficult math game to figure out how to get this passed.”
There is a question about whether Georgians need to approve a constitutional amendment to allow sports betting in the Peach State. However, according to media reports, former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton concluded in a memo that a constitutional amendment is not required for the state to allow online sports betting.
“Based on my review of the relevant law, the original public meanings of applicable terms and the historical context of those terms, it is my opinion that sports betting can be legalized as a state-run lottery for educational purposes solely through legislative action,” Melton wrote, according to the Associated Press.
Business group Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and Atlanta’s professional sports teams are backing the House bill. Avoiding a constitutional amendment is key because they need a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the General Assembly to pass, and then a majority of voters in a statewide election.
Republicans don’t have a two-thirds supermajority in either chamber and some Republicans refuse to support gambling on moral grounds, necessitating Democratic support, notes AP. A bill needs only a majority of both chambers and the signature of Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.
Kemp has signaled a willingness to legalize sports betting. House Speaker Jon Burns, a Newington Republican, has expressed doubts about proceeding on some forms of gambling without a constitutional amendment; while Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones supports legalization and says he doesn’t believe an amendment is necessary.
The House bill would grant 16 total sports betting licenses, including to pro sports teams, the Masters golf tournament, the Professional Golfers’ Association, the owners of Atlanta Motor Speedway, and the Georgia Lottery Corp. itself. Seven licenses would be reserved for betting firms. Bets would be limited to those 21 and older and physically present in the state.