Georgia sports betting hitches hopes to soap box derby bill

Sopa box derby running down the road
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First-term Georgia lawmaker Rep. Leesa Hagan wanted her first piece of legislation to encourage children to, “put down their phones and get outside.” Now it is a vehicle to continue the quest to legalize sports betting in the state, which advanced out of committee and onto the Senate floor.

Soap box derby bill repurposed for sports betting

Hagan’s bill, HB237, originally intended to establish the Southeast Georgia Soap Box Derby, whose participants range from 7-20 years of age, as the official soap box derby of Georgia.

Thanks to a committee substitute, which swelled the bill from three to 47 pages, the bill’s scope now includes a lottery-run sports betting infrastructure that, based on the explanation offered by committee member Sen. Derek Mallow, would not require a constitutional amendment and would feature a tax rate of 22%. Like similar bills that died earlier this session, proceeds would go to support education.

All of the measures designed to legalize sports betting failed to cross across chambers before the March 7 deadline.

Committee Chairman Sen. Brandon Beach credited Lt. Gov. Burt Jones for keeping the effort to legalize sports betting alive. When he was a Senator, Jones supported a similar piece of sports betting legislation back in 2020.

Original sponsor asks for soap box element to be removed

The new bill was not available to the public at the time of the hearing. In fact, it wasn’t even made available to Hagan.

“It’s hard for me to make a comment about a substitute that I’ve never been shown. I don’t even have a copy of it here,” she said. She also asked to have her soap box language stripped from the committee substitute.

“It’s my first bill. I’m a new legislator. This is important to me. But if this committee decides they’d rather have sports betting, then I would respectfully request that you would remove my language from it.”

Beach did say that Jones had another piece of legislation Hagan could potentially attach her measure to should she choose.

Hagan was not the only lawmaker at the meeting who thought this move was not a good idea. Vice Committee Chairman Sen. Mike Dugan didn’t hold his feelings back.

“Whoever came up with this idea just set sports betting back five years. “When you hijack a soap box derby and put sports betting on the back of it, every person that was on the fence in the state of Georgia has just how picked a side of the fence. So I can’t support this. This small adjustment, just so we understand what small is, is page three to 47 of the bill. So I mean, y’all’s call. You can vote this out of committee. It will not pass on the floor. And I think everybody in here knows it won’t pass on the floor. And the damage you have just done to the sports betting industry by trying this is unfathomable.”

Dugan left after those comments and did not partake in the vote, where the committee advanced it to the Senate floor by a vote of 8-1.