The state of Georgia is likely to see legalized sports betting as bills have been pre-filed ahead of the 2021 legislative session.
This comes after the organizers of the Biennial Institute, a pre-legislative session primer for legislators, discussed the topic in an hour-long session last week. The sports betting bill, pari-mutuel horse racing, and casino resorts have been pre-filed ahead of the next legislative session on January 11, 2021.
“If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen in this next session,” observed the Peach State’s House Rep. Ron Stephens, the chairman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee. He added that the people want regulated sports betting, and they express their feelings through opinion polls and public hearings, adding, “It’s time the legislature gives residents that opportunity.”
Currently, Georgia is one of just six states with no tribal or commercial casinos, nor any pari-mutuel wagering either.
Legalization Requires Referendum
Stephens has been one of the most vocal supporters of regulated gambling, mainly as it related to casinos. He sponsored legislative bills in each of the last three two-year legislative sessions. But, the eventual legalization of gambling requires a supermajority vote to pass both through House and the Senate.
However, even if both the legislatures pass a gaming bill and the governor signs it, it would not become a law unless Georgians decide it through a referendum. The state law requires a constitutional amendment to be approved via a statewide ballot referendum. Local jurisdiction would have a say in whether casinos or horse racing tracks would be established in their towns and cities.
Despite hurdles, legalization is widely welcomed among a majority of stakeholders, particularly among those who legislate under the Georgia Capitol’s gold dome. Still, legalizing the industry “requires heavy lifting, and heavy lifting always requires bipartisanship,” noted Rep. Calvin Smyre, the longest-serving member of the state’s General Assembly at 46 years. He believes that they have that muscle right now.
Sports Betting Likely to Pass First
Pro-gambling lawmakers realize legislation depends mainly on two factors: the type of gambling (sports betting, casino resorts, and horse racing) and, more importantly, how Georgia state will use the taxes.
Sports betting is the most likely type to get through legislation as many Georgians already wager on various sports online. So, the mere infrastructure requirement is to devise a tax collection method. According to Stephens, sports betting regulation is the “path of least resistance” as it could possibly be implemented without a referendum. The suggestion is to launch sports betting through the Georgia Lottery.
However, the suggestion remains short of a practical step by three of the four lawmakers at the Biennial Institute, who insisted any new gambling legalization, including sports betting, must be blessed through the statewide vote.
Horse Racing and Casinos Would Bring More Taxes!
Georgia lawmakers agree that even though sports betting is more likely to pass first, it is less lucrative than horse racing or casinos. According to Sen. Cowsert, the annual sports betting tax revenue could be not more than $50 million. Meanwhile, horse racing and casinos are likely to draw more tax revenue.
Another point of debate among lawmakers is to consider where to direct the tax revenues extracted from legalized gambling. Earlier suggestions have been to divert the funds to education-related programs and scholarships for college students, but lawmakers are now considering other areas of need.