Georgia legislators mounted an effort to bring sports betting hopes back from the dead Thursday (March 17), attaching sports-betting legalization to an unrelated bill in a Senate committee.
The Senate’s Economic Development and Tourism Committee quickly approved a modified version of House Bill 237 that would permit sports betting in the state, just two weeks after similar legislation failed in both chambers ahead of the legislature’s crossover deadline of March 6.
The previous purpose of House Bill 237 was to designate the state’s official Soap Box Derby.
The new bill, of which full language is not yet available, would legalize sports betting without the use of a constitutional amendment and establish a 22 percent tax rate on sports-betting revenue, according to Senator Derek Mallow, a Democrat, who presented several details of the bill during Thursday’s committee hearing.
“This simply splits the difference between the opinions of what was in the House and what was in the Senate,” Mallow said. “The Senate had 20 percent; the House was at 25 percent.”
Mallow also added that the bill would not permit tax deductions for promotional play.
This version of the bill also leaves out another provision that the Senate and House disagreed on, namely the inclusion of wagering on horseracing.
While stripping and replacing unrelated bills with new language is hardly uncommon in state legislatures throughout the U.S., it is less common in Georgia than in other states, and the move to replace a largely ceremonial bill with the new sports-betting legalization language faced harsh criticism on Thursday.
“Whoever came up with this idea just set sports betting back five years,” said Republican Senator Mike Dugan. “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 now picked a side of the fence.
“It will not pass on the floor, and I think everybody in here knows it won’t pass on the floor,” he added. “And the damage you have just done to the sports-betting industry is unfathomable to me.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reported that Republican Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones, a sponsor of sports-betting legislation in previous years during his time in the Senate, helped spur the revival of the bill to render a verdict on the issue.
“We either put it to bed so we don’t have to talk about it anymore, or we’ll get it passed and it will just be like picking up $75m in the street,” Jones told the AJC.
The Senate and House both failed to pass differing versions of the sports-betting plan in the days leading up to the crossover deadline, with the state’s ongoing debate as to whether sports wagering requires a constitutional amendment remaining on full display during legislative debate.
Sports-betting bills came to the Senate floor twice, with a bill that would legalize betting without a constitutional amendment but did include horseracing failing to receive a majority on March 2, and then a bill that would have triggered a constitutional amendment receiving a majority but failing to receive the needed two-thirds of the chamber on March 6.
After passing out of committee, a House bill that would have legalized sports betting without a constitutional amendment was never brought to the floor for a vote prior to the deadline.
The new deadline for lawmakers to target is the end of the Peach State's 2023 legislative session on March 29.