The question toward evaluating sports wagering legislation for Georgia for the most part is not a matter of yes or no but more of “how” it should be decided and achieved.
Legislation to legalize online sports betting in Georgia gained momentum in the state Senate last Thursday just as it appeared to get sidetracked in the Georgia House of Representatives.
A Senate committee passed a constitutional amendment that would put sports betting on the statewide ballot next year for Georgia voters to decide.
The Senate Special Judiciary Committee passed legislation to legalize mobile sports betting in Georgia on a 5-2 vote. The passing of mobile sports betting comes at a time when the state is desperately looking for more revenue opportunities due to COVID-19. Georgia is deciding to make $3.6 billion in budget cuts and are looking for revenue potential to fill the gap.
Democrats in Georgia have pulled their support in a dispute over voting and election bills, as reported by the Associated Press. Democrats say Republican-backed voting bills would have a disproportionately negative impact on Black voters.
House Minority Leader James Beverly (D) told the AP “If we’ve got leverage, it’s time to use it.”
Also reported by the AP, Bishop Reginald Jackson is working with Democrat leaders in Georgia in opposing GOP voting and election bills. Jackson oversees over 400 African Methodist Episcopal churches within the state. He commented:
If they’re going to try to hurt us at the ballot box, then we need to hurt them with this legislation and not support it.
The issue is divided with Democrats mostly united for progressing the issue but with Republicans holding a majority of seats in the House and Senate. Also, some Republicans remain opposed to legislation that would expand any form of gambling in Georgia.
Senators decided to pursue the referendum route after the House postponed a floor vote on a bill aimed at legalizing sports betting without changing the state Constitution.
Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens). Chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Commission said “It looks like it might not fare well in the House. A constitutional amendment might be the way to go.”
Cowsert also said that he has become convinced that passing any statute authorizing the Georgia Lottery Corporation to oversee and authorize sports wagering without amending the Georgia Constitution would not overcome a court challenge. He added the constitutional amendment choice would also provide lawmakers the opportunity to dedicate any proceeds from sports betting to purposes other than Georgia’s HOPE scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs. Funds which the lottery helps fund.
“It’s a real stretch to call sports betting a lottery game,” he said. “We’re on pretty thin ice to convince a court.”
In addition to the constitutional changes proposed, the special committee also approved a 42-page “enabling” bill including several details on how sports wagering would be conducted in Georgia. Among them:
Under the bill, all sportsbooks would be responsible for paying a 16% tax on their income to the state.
College sports wagering would be permitted but no betting would be allowed on universities within the state.
As all sports wagering would be done online, all bettors would be mandated to be located physically inside the state. A provision enforced by geofencing technology.
As a next step a constitutional amendment and enabling bill is now headed to the Senate Rules Committee to schedule votes on the Senate floor.
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Larry Gibbs is both a seasoned journalist and a respected online gaming industry consultant. His wry commentary & sharp analysis have appeared in numerous top gaming and sports wagering publications. He has also served as Vice President of US Gaming Services, a marketing research organization with 15 years of experience in US online wagering. He has spoken at noted gaming industry conferences including G2E, GiGSE, and NCLGS.
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