Georgia Sports-Betting Backers Potentially Changing Legalization Strategy

January 26, 2023
Supporters of sports betting in Georgia may be changing course once again in their efforts to legalize the activity in the state.


Supporters of sports betting in Georgia may be changing course once again in their efforts to legalize the activity in the state.

Although efforts in recent years have centered on a passing a constitutional amendment that would allow the legislature to expand gambling, such a solution would effectively prohibit the activity from being legalized until at least November 2024.

Ballot referendums are only considered in even years in Georgia, and after several years of failed attempts, supporters are growing increasingly restless.

The Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce commissioned an advisory opinion from Harold Melton, a former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court who now works as a partner for the Atlanta office of the Troutman Pepper law firm.

In the opinion, Melton says he believes the legislature is empowered to legalize betting with standard legislative action, which can happen in any year and only requires a simple majority in each chamber and the signature of Republican Governor Brian Kemp, rather than a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the General Assembly and a majority of voters.

“Sports betting would qualify as a lottery in Georgia, and the General Assembly has the constitutional authority to provide for sports betting as a form of a legal lottery,” Melton wrote in a memo obtained by VIXIO GamblingCompliance.

“Pursuant to that authority, the General Assembly enacted the Georgia Lottery for Education Act, which contains the relevant definition of 'lottery.'

“Therefore, the General Assembly can alter the definition of 'lottery' in the act to include sports betting and make other related legislative changes to the criminal code through the normal legislative process,” he continued. “Accordingly, it is my opinion that sports betting can be legalized in the state of Georgia through legislation without the need for a constitutional amendment.”

Georgia legislators attempted to go this route in 2019, but ultimately changed course in 2020 following a report from the legislature’s Office of Legislative Counsel that recommended pursuing an amendment instead given the dicey legal standing.

“Owing to the wording of the Georgia Constitution, 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,” wrote deputy legislative counsel D. Stuart Morelli in an October 2019 letter.

“The only surefire 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,” Morelli said.

Sports-betting legislation has yet to be introduced during Georgia’s legislative session, which began January 9 and runs through March 30.

After several failed attempts, the climate for sports-betting legislation may be more favorable, with the governor, previously either an opponent or lukewarm to the idea of gaming expansion, coming out as neutral on the idea of sports betting during a successful re-election campaign last year.

Kemp’s new Republican lieutenant governor, Burt Jones, was a previous sponsor of sports-betting legislation in the Senate.

However, opposition to sports betting from religious groups remains an active hurdle in Georgia, and if standalone legislation were to succeed, it would likely face a swift legal challenge in some form, whether it be a potential stakeholder left out in the cold, a moral opposition, or an alliance of the two.

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