With the end of the legislative session approaching next week, Georgia legislators have launched another effort to expand gaming in the state, including state-wide mobile sports betting and potentially casinos.
The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee advanced two amended versions of bills passed by the Senate in 2021, including Senate Resolution 135, a constitutional amendment that would trigger a voter referendum in November on whether to allow expanded gaming.
The committee also approved Senate Bill 142, an accompanying enabling bill to license and regulate mobile sports betting.
Coming into this year’s legislative session, House leadership and sponsors of sports-betting legislation said that rather than focus narrowly on sports betting, they would push for a broader constitutional amendment that would effectively give voters a decision on whether they wanted the state to expand its gaming portfolio. The legislature would then decide to do as they saw fit pending a positive result.
The amended resolution approved by the House committee would do just that, but would require counties to pass their own local voter referendums as to whether they would allow other types of gaming such as casinos or pari-mutuel wagering, as well as enabling legislation to permit those types of gaming beyond lottery or sports betting.
“It's local control, and [voters] decide and that's somewhere down the road,” said Republican Representative Ron Stephens, chairman of the committee and the House sponsor of the bills.
The more immediate form of expansion would be sports betting, with the committee pushing the enabling legislation alongside the proposed constitutional amendment.
The sports-betting bill would be reliant on the result of the broader amendment referendum, and full bill text was not available Monday night (March 28).
According to discussion in the committee, however, the amended version of SB 142 would create 18 mobile sports-betting licenses, with nine being reserved for Georgia-based professional sports teams and nine being untethered mobile licenses, with a $1m license fee and a 20 percent tax on adjusted gross revenues.
“We need to keep the value of these licenses high,” Stephens said of the decision to include 18 licenses.
“We felt like we ought to give more opportunities to the teams that have been asking us to do this, and some of the folks who just want to participate,” he added.
“So to keep the license value high, we just put a finite number in there, and the number that was agreed on with those that we met and believe me, there was a lot of groups here … we started at 14 and 18 is that number.”
The bill would also permit retail kiosks at stadiums and arenas.
Georgia’s legislative session is set to adjourn on Monday (April 4), with only four legislative days remaining for legislation to be passed before adjournment. There is no House vote scheduled as of late Monday.
Given the changes to the Senate bills, both chambers would have to approve the proposed constitutional amendment with a two-thirds majority, as well as the sports-betting enabling legislation with a simple majority.
The Senate failed to receive the two-thirds majority earlier this month on a bill that would have allowed voters to decide on whether to permit pari-mutuel and fixed-odds wagering on horseracing.
Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who faces a bitter battle in both his primary and potentially in November’s general election for a second term as governor, would not need to sign the amendment, but would need to sign the enabling legislation for sports wagering.