Georgia Sports-Betting Bill Set For One Last Stand

March 27, 2024
Supporters of legalizing sports betting in Georgia are making one final push to try to get legislation through both chambers of the state's General Assembly before this year's legislative session ends on Thursday.

Supporters of legalizing sports betting in Georgia are making one final push to try to get legislation through both chambers of the state's General Assembly before this year's legislative session ends on Thursday (March 28).

The House Higher Education Committee heard more testimony on Monday on a package of sports-betting bills that would amend the state’s constitution to permit mobile and retail sports wagering under the oversight of the Georgia Lottery.

The committee has heard the bill on two separate occasions, and prior to Monday, had postponed several meetings where the bill was scheduled to be discussed or potentially voted out of the committee.

With the 2024 legislative session set to end Thursday, the sports-betting bills’ prospects grow increasingly grim by the hour, as the bill still needs a favorable committee vote, a two-thirds majority vote on the floor of the House, and then either two-thirds of the Senate to agree to adopt any amendments made in the House, or a conference committee to reconcile the two bills followed by successful two-thirds majorities in each chamber.

Republican Representative Marcus Wiedower, the legislator carrying the bill in the House, said that the bill is scheduled to be heard again during a committee hearing Wednesday.

House Bill 386, the enabling legislation, cleared the Senate in February, and would permit up to 16 mobile sports-betting licenses to be issued, with nine being reserved for professional sports teams or facilities, and seven being open licenses to be issued by the Georgia Lottery Corporation through a competitive bidding process.

Changes introduced to the bill Monday included raising the tax rate in the bill from 20 to 25 percent of adjusted sports wagering revenue, as well as removing any deductions for promotional play from taxable revenues for operators. If enacted, the bill would make Georgia one of the highest effective tax rates for sports betting in a competitive market in the U.S.

If enacted by both chambers of the legislature, the bill would still need voter approval in November to become law, and supporters have pushed the idea of giving voters an opportunity to weigh in when the largest amount of the electorate would be available, i.e. in a presidential election year.

“I cannot think of a better time to gauge the true interest of [mobile sports betting] than that of a presidential election,” Wiedower said. “We can kind of put this to bed and listen, if I’m wrong and Georgians don’t want this, no harm, no foul.”

The need for bipartisan support and a lack of agreement among both parties has often sank sports-betting legislation in the past, and Republican Senator Bill Cowsert, a sponsor of one of the bills, said that although disagreements still remain over how sports-betting tax revenues would be used, he hopes the House will keep the conversation progressing.

“I’ve had conversations with [Democratic House Minority Leader James] Beverly on some of his thoughts, and I’ve laid out my rationale,” Cowsert said. “He has some differences, and they are different than mine, and I’d like to keep the ball rolling.”

“Let’s see what the House does, if the House even has an appetite for voting and we can get in conference and agree, disagree, and hammer it out; I do think everybody needs to be flexible to get there.”

“I’ve watched the legislature’s majority become narrower and narrower over my years. There was a time we had a two-thirds majority in the Senate and we could do what we want to do; we don’t now and the House doesn’t either,” Cowsert added, referring to the Republican Party's control of both chambers.

“That requires us to work together, then negotiate together to get to the right place.”

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