For The Record
Prospects fade for legalized sports betting as Georgia lawmakers scuttle planned constitutional amendment
A bill to put legal sports betting to a vote failed in the Georgia Senate Monday. Scott Olson/Getty Images
This story was updated at 12:45 a.m. March 7 after the House adjourned without taking a vote on a sports betting bill.
Lawmakers’ attempts to expand gambling in Georgia appear to have flopped yet again after two bills failed to pass on Crossover Day.
Athens Republican Sen. Bill Cowsert’s Senate Resolution 140 received a majority of votes Monday – 30-to-26 – but not enough to meet the two-thirds majority required for a constitutional amendment. Monday was Crossover Day, the final day for a bill to move from one chamber to the other without being grafted onto another bill.
A separate House sports betting bill that did not call for a constitutional amendment did not receive a vote by the midnight deadline and appears down for the count.
“We were close, we made some advancements in sports betting, putting the dollars into the lottery was was a positive thing,” House Speaker Jon Burns told reporters late Monday night. “It takes a lot of education to make sure you can get things across the finish line with our members, and we’re getting there, and we’re continuing to work with those folks who are interested in that proposition, but this year was not the right time for it in the House.
The losses represent strikes two and three for expanded gambling in Georgia this year after a more expansive Senate bill failed last week.
Cowsert said the money could do a lot of good for the state’s higher education system by extending the HOPE Scholarship to students based on need.
“We’re not changing admissions requirements here,” he said. “We’re just saying for the kids that can’t afford it, white kids, African-American kids, Asian kids, Hispanic kids, Georgian kids who don’t have enough money to get a college education, we’re giving them a hand up.”
Most of the Senate’s Democrats agreed.
“I hear from the high school counselors who work with young people who are seeking post secondary education, and they come down and they say, there needs to be needs based scholarship money,” said Atlanta Democratic Sen. Nan Orrock. “And I don’t demean the child, the young student who hasn’t achieved the standards that we’ve set for HOPE.”
It was Cowsert’s fellow Republicans who sealed his bill’s fate – 23 of the chamber’s 33 Republicans voted no to the plan, compared with only 3 of the 23 Democrats.
Acworth Republican Sen. Ed Setzler said the potential harms of promulgating gambling addiction outweigh the boon to students.
“The benefits here, or $50 million in the scale of a budget the size of the state of Georgia’s, and even compared to our lottery program, this is a very small amount of money by comparison, as a benefit weighed against the corrupting value that gambling has,” he said.
The General Assembly Monday gave final approval to an amended plan for this year’s $32.5 billion budget.
Tyrone Republican Sen. Marty Harbin said Georgia voters would likely be swamped by ads from pro-gambling groups and not be able to make an informed decision if the plan came to a public vote.
“Our citizens will see a constitutional amendment on a ballot. And what they are doing, they are believing this, that we have approved this and that we are wanting their approval on it,” he said. “But the sad thing about it is that they don’t have the information that you and I have been able to have at all the meetings and all the stuff that’s gone on. And we’re going to put this on for them to vote on.”
Cowsert said letting voters decide would be the fairest way to settle the question that has been simmering in the Legislature for years.
“I don’t get why it’s wrong to let the people of Georgia vote on this issue,” he said. “We’re not little mini dictators up here dictating what the policy will always be. There are certain issues that we have a contract with the government, and that’s called our constitution, and we can’t change it unless two-thirds of us – bipartisan agreement – think it makes sense to let the people decide, and then the majority of the citizens of Georgia say this is what we want.”
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