Georgia lawmakers are making a last-minute push on a bill seeking to make all forms of gambling legal in the state through a constitutional amendment. The nearly 60-page bill (SR 135) came up late Monday afternoon, taking some lawmakers by surprise, reports CBS46.
The resolution to amend the state’s constitution will need support from two-thirds of each chamber to become law. It would ask voters whether Georgia should allow “sports betting and other forms of betting and gambling” in the state.
While House lawmaker Erick Allen, who was on the committee that voted for the bill, says the legislation was not a shock -as it builds upon an ongoing debate on whether to permit gambling in the state- he said the timing was a surprise.
“We weren’t expecting it to come up with four hours notice. The first time I saw the legislation was about 1 pm with a hearing at 3 pm,” Allen said. “It’s a constitutional amendment to allow all sorts, all modes of gambling whether it be casinos, horse racing, pari-mutuel betting, sports betting, fantasy betting; all would be available through this resolution.”
Currently, the Georgia Lottery is the only legal form of gambling in the Peach State, while other forms of betting -such as horse racing, sports gaming, and casino gambling- are deemed illegal. In the current version of the bill, should a county seek to allow casinos or tracks in their areas, local voters would then also have to approve it.
Given its broad allowance of all gaming, its odds of passage in the Senate might not be the best: earlier this year, the Senate failed to advance legislation allowing horse racing. Measures to pass both casino gaming and horse racing have failed to pass time after time for the past several years.
The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee also passed on Monday a bill (SB 142) that would regulate how sports betting would be conducted in the state, reports The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
According to Committee Chairman Ron Stephens, a Republican who is sponsoring the legislation in the House, the industry has estimated that Georgians illegally spend $1.5 billion in sports betting per year.
Stephens’ push toward legalizing retail and online sports betting comes with only one week remaining in the state’s legislative session. The sports betting bill and ballot measure were originally proposed in 2021, but got held up.
Georgia Rep. Ron Stephens
SB 142 calls for the creation of a Georgia Sports Betting Commission, which would be in charge of managing an online sports wagering system should the constitutional amendment pass, further reports Journal-Constitution.
Operators seeking to enter the state would have to pay a $100,000 application fee, and an annual license fee of $1 million. The state would approve up to 18 companies, of which nine would be affiliated with state sports franchises, that would pay a 20% income tax to the state.
Revenue from sports betting would be earmarked for HOPE college scholarships and pre-k education. The legalization of sports gaming is backed by the Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance, a coalition of pro franchises Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta United. The bill will next go to the House for its consideration.
In order for sports betting to make it to the November ballot, Stephens and his allies will need the two proposed legislations to receive approval at both the House and Senate in the next week. While it is unsure whether this is possible, some lawmakers are committed to keeping pushing for it to happen.