Georgia sports betting: legislators tussle over state amendment

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There has been plenty of movement for Georgia sports betting stakeholders to mull over in the last few weeks. Numerous bills have hit the chambers of the state Capitol in Atlanta, aiming to bring legalized sports betting to the Peach State in 2023. 

In the latest move, as reported by the Associated Press, there is a growing debate over whether voters should get the final say on whether legalized sports betting should land in Georgia this year, in a similar way to California’s failed bid last year. 

Senate Regulated Industries Committee Chairman Bill Cowsert has argued that under the constitution of Georgia, voters should be allowed to cast their vote on the matter, despite sports betting technically not being subject to such a vote. 

The state held a vote in 1992 which allowed the introduction of the Georgia Lottery, and some pro-sports betting legislators are aiming to tag the activity onto the lottery’s remit, thereby undoing the need for a constitutional amendment, which would require a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate followed by a public vote. 

But Cowsert, a Republican who leads the Committee, has asserted that voters should be allowed a say on the future of sports betting in the state. 

He told his peers: “I think it’s only fair if we’re going to make that big of a cultural change in our state to let the people of Georgia decide to do that.

“There are a number of legislators who have personal opposition to gambling, but feel like it’s only fair to let the people of Georgia decide.”

Georgia sports betting legislation comes in droves

This comes after a slew of sports betting legislation reached the Chambers in recent weeks. 

SB57, which was debated last week, would legalize online sports betting in the state as well as bring three racetracks to Georgia without a constitutional amendment.

Meanwhile, 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.

Finally, Senate Resolution 140 would seek to legalize sports betting through a constitutional amendment.

Cowsert is the sponsor of SR 140, but would need to rally for cross-party support across both chambers if the bill is to find success. 

Difficult political arithmetic for constitutional amendment brigade

The Republicans do have a majority in the Senate, but only a 58.9% majority, falling short of the required 66.6% for a single-party victory. Meanwhile, the House paints a similar picture, with the GOP having 56.1% of the seats. 

Adding in that there are some Republican figures who are opposed to gambling, Cowsert will need to attract the support of some of his political opponents to achieve his goal. 

Whilst a political game of chess will need to be played for success, SR140 would secure a more legally sound method for legalizing sports betting. Efforts from non-constitutional amendments may be easier to pass through but could pose some legal issues further down the line.