A bipartisan group of Georgia legislators has introduced a bill that would legalize sports betting without a state constitutional amendment, setting the stage for a legislative battle this year.
A group of ten Georgia senators — six Republicans and four Democrats — introduced Senate Bill 57 on Tuesday (January 31), proposing a market of up to 18 mobile licensees in addition to a robust retail sports wagering network.
The state legislature has experienced several start-and-stop attempts at sports-betting legislation over the past several years, and opinions among legal analysts have been split as to whether legalization can be done through standard legislation or whether it requires a constitutional amendment.
To pass a constitutional amendment in Georgia requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the state legislature, and voter approval during an even-year election.
Senate Bill 57 is a standard piece of legislation, which would require only a simple majority in both houses of the legislature and the signature of Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who was previously an opponent of any type of gaming expansion but has softened over time to a more neutral stance on sports betting.
The bill would allow for between nine and 18 mobile licenses, the first set of which would be reserved for Georgia's major professional sports teams, two professional golf courses including the historic Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament, and two motor sports racetracks.
Major sports teams have been active in lobbying for legal sports betting in Georgia for several years, and their push to have direct involvement in terms of market access reflects a wider trend in U.S. sports-betting policy.
Sports teams in Arizona and Ohio also have market-access rights for mobile sports betting via their designated partners, while a similar trajectory has played out in North Carolina, where sports teams have also been among the most vocal public faces calling for mobile wagering.
As in Georgia, while North Carolina teams have not received market access in previous legislation, teams are pushing more strongly for their own direct access to sports-betting licenses this year rather than simply capitalizing on the secondary revenue streams such as marketing partnerships and increased customer engagement.
Under the Georgia Senate bill, each qualifying sports entity would have to submit written notice of their intent to seek a license by September 1, should the measure pass during this year's legislative session.
Those entities would account for nine of the available licenses, with the Georgia Lottery permitted to issue an additional nine licenses to untethered online sports-betting operators through a procurement process.
Each license would come with a $100,000 application fee and a $1m annual license fee.
The bill also creates a retail network that would permit between five and ten sports-betting distributors to operate retail betting through establishments that hold liquor licenses or are licensed to offer coin-operated amusement machines.
The bill does not cap the amount of retailers who would be permitted to offer betting, although it does restrict the retail betting to more limited bets, including spreads, over/unders, money line, parlays, or fixed-odds horseracing bets.
Both mobile and retail betting would be taxed at a 20 percent share of adjusted gross revenues, which exempts federal excise tax payments but does not include deductions for promotional play.
The bill would create the Georgia Sports Betting Commission to regulate sports wagering, and applications would not be accepted until four months after appointment of all members of the seven-member commission and an executive director, meaning even if the bill were to pass during this year’s legislative session, which concludes March 30, the first bets would likely not be accepted until 2024, at best.