Georgia’s Legal Sports Betting Hopes Continue to Grow

Chamberlain Smith/Collegiate Images/Getty Images. Pictured: The Georgia Bulldogs.

Slowly but surely, Georgia — which has one of the nation’s most politically conservative legislatures — is closing in on legal sports betting.

A Senate committee heard details on the latest sports betting bill Thursday, setting up a vote as early as next week. Meanwhile, a separate sports betting bill is still percolating in the House, giving backers in both chambers a chance to build support for legal wagering.

The bills’ prospects are bolstered by a group of high-ranking Republicans in both House and Senate spearheading the legislation.

If GOP leaders can assuage skeptical Republicans, their political clout combined with Democratic support could build enough momentum to overcome the General Assembly’s traditional gambling opposition.

Sports Betting Bill Details

Both the House and Senate bills would allow at least six statewide mobile sportsbooks. The legislation doesn’t permit brick-and-mortar sportsbooks, mirroring the market structure in neighboring Tennessee.

The Georgia Lottery would control sports betting under both bills. Supporters believe this is a way to work around the state’s constitutional gambling prohibitions; sports betting wouldn’t require a separate voter-approved referendum if it’s simply another game offering for the state lottery.

Enacted in 1992, the Georgia Lottery was one of the first modern government-run lotteries in the South and has generated billions of dollars for education funding.

Elected officials from both parties have typically championed its growth, and it is one of only a handful of state lotteries that permit online ticket sales.

Unlike the Senate bill, the House proposal prohibits wagers on collegiate sporting events. This could be a major contention point in college football-crazy Georgia.

Lawmakers would also have to rectify tax discrepancies if the legislation passes both chambers. The House bill taxes 16% of gross gaming revenues compared to 10% in the Senate’s version.

Not surprisingly, top sportsbook operators lobbying for Georgia sports betting, such as DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM, would prefer the Senate bill’s friendlier tax rates and more expansive betting options.

Next Steps for Georgia Sports Betting

The Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee heard the sports betting bill Thursday and could advance the legislation as early as its meeting next Tuesday. It could then go to the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by sponsor Sen. Jeff Mullis, and then on to a vote before the full Senate floor.

The House Economic Development and Tourism committee easily advanced the House sports betting bill earlier this month, but it was sent back to the committee for further deliberation.

With the Senate bill on track for a vote as early as next week, supporters in the House may be reconciling differences and weighing the best approach forward.

Both the House and Senate must pass identical versions of the bill before it can go to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.

The Republican governor, who has largely opposed gaming expansion in one of the few remaining states without commercial casinos, could be an obstacle. So, too, could other anti-gambling Republicans in what remains a solidly conservative legislature.

However, influential Republicans are lining up behind legal sports betting. Along with Mullis, the Senate bill’s sponsors include Administrative Affairs Chair Butch Miller, Chief Deputy Whip John Albers and Health and Human Services Chair Ben Watson.

Combined with the Democratic support in both the House and Senate, Republican sports betting backers could even have the numbers — and political capital — to either force Kemp’s hand or override a potential veto.

Georgia sports betting backers must still clear several significant political, logistical and procedural hurdles, but there appears a path forward for legal wagering.

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