Georgia Senators Present Bipartisan Sports-Betting Plan

January 29, 2024
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New bipartisan legislation that would legalize mobile sports betting has revived a years-long legal debate in Georgia as to whether the activity can be approved without amending the state’s constitution.
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New bipartisan legislation that would legalize mobile sports betting has revived a years-long legal debate in Georgia as to whether the activity can be approved without amending the state’s constitution.

Senate Bill 386 was filed on Wednesday (January 24) and could receive its first hearing in a Senate committee later this week.

The bill would authorize sports betting as a new offering of the Georgia Lottery Corporation. 

Of 16 licenses available, eight would be reserved for Georgia's professional sports teams, the Atlanta Motor Speedway, East Lake Golf Club and Augusta National Golf Club, the home of the U.S. Masters major tournament. In addition, a license would be reserved for the Georgia Lottery itself to act as operator in addition to regulator.

The other seven licenses would be issued by the lottery untethered to an existing entity through a public procurement process.

The bill is especially notable for the wide variety of sponsors who have immediately signed on to it.

Sponsors include both the top Democrat in the Senate, Gloria Berger, and Republican Senator Bo Hatchett, who is one of the two designated Senate floor leaders by Governor Brian Kemp, a role that traditionally pushes legislation that the governor would support.

Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones, a long-time supporter of sports-betting legislation, has also spoken in favor of the bill.

The bill is also notable because it once again deviates from separate efforts to pass sports betting by avoiding an accompanying amendment to the the state’s constitution and instead proposing authorization strictly through traditional legislation.

One benefit to doing so is that traditional legislation without a constitutional amendment is that it would only require a majority vote in both chambers of the General Assembly and Kemp’s signature, while an amendment would require a two-thirds majority in both chambers and a successful state-wide referendum in November.

In past years, gaining a two-thirds majority has been too daunting a task for sports-betting supporters to complete, due to a mix of moral objections, as well as political divide between Republicans, which control both chambers of the legislature, and Democrats.

However, there has been debate over the years as to whether an amendment is ultimately required to add sports betting to the state’s limited gaming portfolio, which currently includes only the state lottery and coin-operated amusement machines.

In an October 2019 letter, the Georgia General Assembly's own legal advisors wrote that “reasonable arguments could be made on both sides of the question, and the ultimate success of an attempt to legalize sports betting without a constitutional amendment could come down to a roll of a dice.”

“The only sure fire way to avoid years of protracted litigation over the matter would be a constitutional amendment that explicitly authorizes the legalization of sports betting in one or more forms,” added the letter by state deputy legislative counsel D. Stuart Morelli.

However, last year, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, which is supporting the bill, commissioned a second opinion from former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton, who wrote that he believed sports betting could be legalized without a constitutional amendment.

If SB 386 is enacted, operators would pay a 15 percent tax on adjusted gross income, as well as a $1m annual fee for a five-year license. Online sports-betting providers for companies tethered to the land-based entities would also pay an additional $100,000 annual fee.

Licensed companies able to meet the specified deadlines would be eligible for a same-day launch that would take place no later than January 31, 2025.

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