For The Record

State Senate clears path for legalized online sports betting in Georgia

By: - March 5, 2021 3:22 pm

The Georgia Senate advanced to the House Friday measures proposing to allow people older than 21 and within Georgia’s boundaries to wager on sports. A referendum would allow Georgia voters to decide if sports betting becomes legal. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The state Senate passed groundbreaking legislation Friday that proposes to let Georgians determine if online sports betting becomes legal. 

The Senate overwhelmingly voted in favor of a referendum allowing Georgians to decide whether to amend the state Constitution to legalize sports wagering.  A companion bill would allow the Georgia Lottery Corp. to regulate the system.

The Senate voted 41-10 for the constitutional amendment resolution, clearing the two-thirds support required to move it to the House. And Senate Bill 142 was approved 34 to 17, with opposition about evenly split among Democrats and Republicans. 

Sen. Jeff Mullis, a Chickamauga Republican, said he expects a conference committee of legislators from both chambers to try to get the sports betting legislation across the finish line.

Under the proposal, sports betting revenue will go to needs-based scholarships, rural broadband development, and rural health care. Mullis and other bill supporters said it’s time for the state to stop missing out on millions of dollars wagered over the internet on everything from college football to the NFL to the NCAA basketball tournament. 

“Sports wagering already is happening,” Mullis said. “The estimation is more than 2 million people are (betting). The estimation is that over $4 billion is spent in the state of Georgia.”

For several years, Georgia lawmakers have debated expanding legalized gambling beyond the Georgia Lottery to include casinos and horse racing without gaining traction. The possibilities for sports betting changed in 2018 when the U.S. The Supreme Court ended a federal ban, thereby leaving it up to each state to decide if it’ll legalize it.

About two dozen states either allow legalized online sports betting or plan to, including Tennessee where the law took effect in July 2019. 

Proposals to legalize casinos and horse tracks in Georgia are still pending this year with little apparent chance of passing. But lawmakers appear  more open to the world of sports wagering that also enjoys the support of the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United, and Atlanta Braves. 

Sports betting is opposed by many religious-based groups that have warned of ills that gambling addiction can have on society. 

Sen. Bill Cowsert, an Athens Republican, said that Georgians will get the final say at the ballot box if they get the chance to vote on the constitutional amendment, making it less legal challenges less likely than if lawmakers directly assigned sports betting oversight to the Georgia Lottery .

The legislation proposes a $10,000 application cost and $100,000 annual fee. 

“Many people have asked, ‘why do we need a constitutional amendment?’” Cowsert said. “The reason we need to is because this is not currently permitted under our state constitution. There’s an argument of a workaround being, well, we’re just going to call this a lottery game. If that was the case, we could have been doing it for years.”

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.

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