Friday, February 23, 2024

Parade Of Georgia Sports Betting Bills Winding Through Legislature

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Multiple Georgia sports betting bills are moving forward, and potentially are on a collision course.

In the past week, the Georgia Senate and House advanced multiple bills that legalize GA sports betting. Last week, the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee pushed forward SB 57. This week, the House Higher Education Committee approved HB 380, while the Senate Regulated Industries & Utilities Committee passed SR 140 and its accompanying SB 172.

It is the fifth consecutive year Georgia lawmakers are attempting to legalize sports betting. Despite several close calls in years past, sports betting remains a conflict point for Georgia legislators, as detailed in a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution article.

Any legislation has to pass its original chamber by March 6, or crossover day. An industry source expects at least Rep. Marcus Wiedower‘s HB 380 will be up for a floor vote Monday.

Similar House, Senate bills draw attention

Sen. Billy Hickman‘s SB 57 legalizes horse racing and sports betting, while Wiedower’s HB 380 allows just sports wagering. Hickman’s legislation creates a new regulatory board under the Georgia Lottery, while regulation is left to the lottery under the House bill.

Both bills create nine licenses for named entities. SB 57 allows for nine standalone mobile operators, with the House version opening up seven for public bid. Hickman’s Senate proposal taxes sports betting revenue at 20%, while Wiedower’s legislation would tax revenue at 25% following an amendment this week.

Sources tell LSR the Hickman and Wiedower bills are the most likely to finish a journey through the legislature with a conference committee, more than likely, because of their differences. One source pinned the chance of Georgia legalization at approximately 40%, based on doubts in the Senate regarding the potential need for a constitutional amendment.

Other Georgia sports betting efforts in play

SB 57 and HB 380 treat sports betting as an extension of the Georgia Lottery and help fund the state’s education system; therefore, proponents believe they do not need a constitutional amendment. Other legislative efforts follow the belief an amendment is required for legal sports betting and would put the issue up for a statewide vote.

With that in mind, Sen. Bill Cowsert sponsored SR 140 and SB 172, which would create a lottery license and up to five other online operators. During meetings this past week, Cowsert’s legislation received approval from the Regulated Industries & Utilities Committee, which he chairs.

Cowsert’s legislation includes a base 20% tax rate, as well as a 25% rate for parlays, prop bets and live bets.

House Minority Leader Rep. James Beverly also has a piece of legislation, HR 210, which would send sports betting proceeds to various areas like tourism, economic development and cultural and performing arts. It also legalizes horse racing and casinos, and requires a constitutional amendment. Beverly’s legislation is unlikely to see action in the Republican-led House, per the AJC.

Governor changes tune on sports betting

Unlike previous years, Gov. Brian Kemp expressed willingness to work with legislators to legalize sports betting. However, public support of sports betting is wavering in Georgia, with a January AJC poll finding that 49% of voters support legalizing sports betting. Previously in 2020, support reached 57%.

As a bipartisan issue with support and opposition on both sides, GA sports betting has been pulled into broader political division within the state. The 2021 effort stalled primarily because of Republican efforts to limit voter rights.

Opponents, including multiple religious organizations, have lined up against the bills throughout the hearings.

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