Georgia Senate Debates Sports Betting

February 27, 2024
1 min read

A proposed constitutional amendment calling for a statewide referendum on whether to legalize sports betting in Georgia cleared the state Senate Tuesday.

Senate Resolution 579 passed 41-12, garnering three more votes than the minimum two-thirds majority required to approve constitutional amendments in the General Assembly. Combined with an enabling bill specifying how sports betting would operate that the Senate passed earlier this month, Tuesday’s vote marked the most progress legalized gambling has made in a years-long effort in the legislature.

Under the legislation, sports betting would be overseen by the Georgia Lottery Corporation through a newly created gaming commission.

The enabling bill calls for the awarding of 16 licenses to online sports betting providers. Five would go to Atlanta’s professional sports teams: the Braves, Falcons, Hawks, Dream, and Atlanta United. The Augusta National Golf Club, the Professional Golf Association (PGA), and the Atlanta Motor Speedway would receive one license each.

Seven licenses would be open to sports betting providers through an application process overseen by lottery officials. The lottery corporation also would receive one license.

The vast majority of the tax revenue derived from sports betting – 80% – would go toward education with an emphasis on Georgia’s pre-kindergarten program. Another 15% would fund an education program on the dangers of problem gambling, and the final 5% would be used to promote major sporting events in Georgia.

During years of debate in the General Assembly over legalized gambling, a key issue of contention has been whether a constitutional amendment is necessary or whether it can be done through general law.

Georgia voters deserve the right to decide whether to bring sports betting to the Peach State, Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, Senate Resolution 579’s chief sponsor, said during Tuesday’s floor debate.

“It’s politically appropriate to let the people vote,” he said.

“I trust the people of Georgia to make the right decision,” added Sen. Carden Summers, R-Cordele, one of the resolution’s cosponsors.

After some senators questioned the proposed sports marketing fund Tuesday, Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, said the state should contribute to a promotional effort that now is largely handled by the private sector.

“We’ve depended on the business community. … (But) you can only go to that well so much,” said Beach, another of the resolution’s cosponsors. “We need those funds if we want to be competitive.”

Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone, who has consistently opposed legalized gambling, said the projected $125 billion sports betting would generate for Georgia’s economy each year is minuscule compared to the $16 billion budget surplus the state has built up during the last three years.

“We have the money,” Harbin said. “We don’t need this.”

Both the enabling bill and the constitutional amendment are now in the Georgia House of Representatives’ court. Since the Senate has been leading the legalized gambling push in recent years, the fate of sports betting remains uncertain as the General Assembly heads into the final weeks of the 2024 session.

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