Georgia Sports Betting Passes Senate Amendment Vote

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A proposed bill to legalize sports betting in Georgia has passed a major hurdle this week. Senator Bill Cowsert (R-46) headed the push for Senate Resolution 579, which enables a change in the Georgia constitution to offer a referendum on sports betting.

SR579 is in support of Senate Bill 386, championed by Clint Dixon (R-45), which passed the Senate earlier in February. SR579 passed 41-12 in a vote at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta (pictured) on Tuesday.

With both changes now passed, SB386 only has to go through a Georgia House vote before a state referendum on Georgia sports betting can be scheduled for November 2024.

The Senate resolution also changed the way the proposed sports betting tax system would work.

Proponents say a legal sports betting market in Georgia could generate $100 million in revenue. Other politicians are opposed, citing problem gambling risks when compared with the sound financial health of the state as reasons sports betting isn’t needed.

Market Framework

Under SB386, a Georgia sports betting market would have space for 12 operators. Seven sportsbooks would be entitled to launch on their own, and a further five will be allowed if partnered with one of Georgia’s professional sports franchises.

That includes Atlanta’s Augusta National golf event, NASCAR, and the MLB’s Atlanta Braves, among others.

The new sports gambling sector would be overseen by a newly created Georgia Gaming Commission.

Resolution 579 adapted the tax structure of the existing bill, as well as authorizing a public referendum on the issue.

Some 80% of any sports betting tax revenues will be allocated to education. Some 15% will go to responsible gambling education initiatives, and 5% will be earmarked for promoting state sports.

The resolution also framed the exact wording of the referendum vote, which has now been agreed on by one-half of the state legislature.

Should SB386 pass the House over the coming weeks, Georgia voters will be given the following question in November:

“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize the General Assembly to provide by law for sports betting in this state and to provide for such proceeds to be used for educational funding for pre-kindergarten and HOPE scholarships, services for gambling addiction, and the advancement and promotion of sports in this state?”

“The ballot question is just as clean and straightforward as it could be,” Cowsert said. “There is no way any voter would be confused by it.”

Prosperous States

Cowsert was the main proponent of the sports betting legislation, as he was during the failed attempt to pass a similar bill last year.

He told legislators that the extra funding could allow Georgia to apply to host big-ticket sporting events, such as the Olympics and the NBA’s All-Star Game.

He says $100 million could be raised in taxes from a 20% flat rate on sportsbook’s revenues.

The potential benefits have been specifically outlined in the proposed referendum question.

However, this proposal still has to pass a vote in the state House, where the idea was rejected last year.

Despite a strong majority in the Senate, those opposed outlined their concerns, which may be shared by House Representatives.

“The people who vote for the constitutional amendment will not have the knowledge and information that you and I have,” said Senator Marty Harbin (R-16).

He said that the economic benefits of sports betting did not outweigh the problem gambling issues highlighted by other opponents.

The economic prospects of a state often correlate with their willingness to endorse gambling businesses. Sports betting is a proven tax provider for cash-strapped state governments.

In Georgia’s case, it held an $11 billion budget surplus in 2023. So the benefits of $100 million in extra tax dollars a year aren’t as enticing as they would be in a state running a deficit.

“We have the money,” Harbin said. “We have the No. 1 state to do business in. We have a state that is prosperous.”

If sports betting is legalized in Georgia, it will join 38 states that legalized it in some kind. The most recent launch was Vermont sports betting, which opened in January this year. North Carolina sports betting is set to launch on March 11.

It currently has a Georgia lottery service, but no casinos or other legal forms of commercial gambling. Many gamblers in the Peach State head across state lines to play at Florida casinos, and more recently, sports betting via the Hard Rock Bet monopoly.

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