It’s been a busy week for Georgia sports betting efforts so far with the introduction of two new bills as well as a committee hearing on SB57.
SB57 would legalize sports betting and fixed-odds horse racing
SB57’s sponsor, Sen. Billy Hickman spoke on behalf of the bill, which would create online sports betting in the state as well as bring three racetracks to Georgia without a constitutional amendment.
Since the horse racing offered would be only fixed-odds bets, Hickman and the bill’s co-sponsors believe it is within the purview of the Georgia Lottery to offer without a voter referendum. Since it is neither parimutuel wagering nor casinos, which are expressly stipulated by law as something citizens would have to vote on to legalize, the lawmakers pushing the bill believe the argument put forth by former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton gives them the legal cover to do this through legislation and without a ballot initiative.
Hickman sold the bill as something that would cost the state government absolutely nothing and something that would bring in revenue for the states as well as jobs. He claimed the economic impact of the bill could create up to 8,200 jobs, most of which are tied to the launch of a horse racing industry within the state.
SB57 hearing draws animal rights and religious activists
While one Chamber of Commerce showed up in support of the bill at the hearing, most of the opponents to the bill took exception to horse racing but not sports betting. These animal rights activists expressed concerns about the impact on the state budget to support animal welfare horse racing would have on the industry. In particular, there was concern about what would happen to retired racehorses that are often sent to slaughter.
Other opponents did show up to voice their opposition to gambling in general as well as the legality of the bill.
Georgia Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee Chairman Sen. Brandon Breach, who is a co-sponsor of SB57, did say he intends for the committee to vote on this bill next week, but that scheduling could be tricky given the committee’s other commitments.
Two new Georgia sports betting bills introduced
In the meantime, two new bills entered the fray in the state. Like SB57, HB380 seeks to institute sports betting without a constitutional amendment. However, the bill does not include the expansion of horse betting and the nature of licensees and tax rates vary. HB380 would also delegate regulation to the state lottery, while SB57 would create a new commission.
The other effort, Senate Resolution 140, would seek to legalize sports betting through a constitutional amendment. Sen. Breach is one of the sponsors of the resolution as well, which would need a two-thirds majority in both chambers to move on to the governor and a potential ballot referendum.
As these bills get discussed, the biggest question at hand is whether or not the legislature will face the potential legal challenge of sports betting without an amendment or if they will opt for the longer but more legally secure path of taking the issue of sports betting to Georgia voters.