Georgia, Mississippi Mobile Betting Bills Clear First Chambers

February 2, 2024
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Legislation to permit mobile sports betting cleared the Georgia Senate on Thursday, but with a major catch that could impede the bill’s future progress.
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Legislation to permit mobile sports betting cleared the Georgia Senate on Thursday (February 1), but with a major catch that could impede the bill’s future progress.

The Senate approved Senate Bill 386 by a 35-15 vote, but also approved an amendment to the bill that would require a separate constitutional amendment for the bill to become law.

The constitutional amendment would require a separate resolution to be approved by two-thirds of each chamber of the General Assembly and a successful voter referendum in November. In contrast, a bill without an accompanying constitutional amendment would only have to pass by a simple majority in both the House and Senate, and then be signed by the governor.

Republican Senator Bill Cowsert, who presented the amendment, argued that sports betting was not the intent of the amendment that ultimately created the state lottery in 1992, and that he believed passing SB 386 without an amendment would be unconstitutional.

“There is no way that people in Georgia when they passed that constitutional amendment believed that it would authorize the General Assembly to say that sports betting was a lottery game,” Cowsert said, adding that the law does not give the General Assembly the authority to define lottery games.

“It is disingenuous at best, and just sneaky, to try to circumvent the voters of the state of Georgia, and I don’t understand why we would want to do that.”

Some critics argued Thursday that the push for a constitutional amendment was to allow further gambling expansion beyond sports betting to be added to the legislation as it moves forward.

“If you open the door for a constitutional amendment, then you’re opening the door possibly for casinos, and this bill does none of that,” said Republican Senator Clint Dixon, the bill’s sponsor.

The bill would create 16 mobile licenses to be issued by the Georgia Lottery Corporation. Nine of those licenses would be reserved for professional sports teams, facilities, and the lottery itself to serve as an operator. The other seven licenses would be available on a standalone basis through a public procurement process.

Operators would pay a 20 percent tax on adjusted gross income, with no provisions for deducting promotional play from taxable revenue.

Thursday's vote is not the first time that sports wagering legislation has been approved by Georgia's Senate. The chamber also passed a sports-betting bill in 2021, but that legislation was not brought up for a vote in the House.

Going Mobile In Mississippi

Georgia was not the only southern state to pass fast-moving mobile sports-betting legislation on Thursday, as the Mississippi House of Representatives passed House Bill 774 as well.

The bill would allow each of the state’s 26 casinos, which are currently authorized to offer land-based sports wagering, to offer mobile betting with one online skin for each property.

Players would be able to register remotely for a wagering account rather than in person, which has been an open debate in Mississippi given the concerns of more rural casinos. 

In addition, the bill includes provisions that would restrict the operator from being a participant in a fantasy sports contest, an attempt to codify restrictions on single-statistic, against-the-house fantasy sports.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Representative Casey Eure, pointed to the increased interest in sports betting in southern U.S. states, as reason for Mississippi to finally move on mobile sports betting after several years of failed attempts.

“Today, Georgia's Senate passed mobile sports betting out,” Eure said. “As we all know, in the next couple of weeks, Alabama is coming with a full gaming package. 

“All I'm doing is trying to give another product to our casino industry in our state to stay competitive, and I feel like that's what we're doing,” Eure added.

“So if you look at surrounding states, and you look at what happened today in Georgia, just keep that in mind that we keep Mississippi moving forward.”

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