Georgia Senate passes online sports betting bill

Atlanta Braves logo on giant baseball

The Georgia Senate passed a bill Thursday to legalize online sports betting, but a change could pose a major obstacle. [Image:]

Bipartisan support

The good news for Georgians who want to bet a few dollars every now and then on their favorite team: The Georgia Senate has passed a bill that would legalize online sports betting in the state. The bad news about Senate Bill 386: The Senate also added an amendment that would require a constitutional amendment to make sports betting a reality. It is this amendment that puts the legislation at risk.

up to 16 sports betting licenses

The bill, which easily passed Thursday in a bipartisan 35-15 vote, authorizes the Georgia Lottery to issue up to 16 sports betting licenses. Seven could go to gaming companies like BetMGM and FanDuel, three would go to the PGA, Augusta National Golf Club and Atlanta Motor Speedway, and five would go to the state’s biggest professional sports teams: MLB’s Atlanta Braves, NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Dream of the WNBA, Atlanta Hawks of the NBA and Atlanta United of the MLS.

The final license would be held by the Georgia Lottery itself.

Gross gaming revenue would be taxed at 20%. The seven licenses for the independent companies would come with a $100,000 application fee and a $1 million annual fee.

A constitutional amendment is a major obstacle

The Senate decided that the bill That’s all well and good, but it also passed Republican Sen. Bill Cowsert’s amendment that would require a constitutional amendment before sports betting would become legal in the state. Constitutional amendments require 38 votes in the Senate (two-thirds of the chamber), more than were received in the bill, and a statewide referendum voted on by Georgia residents.

An unconstitutional amendment bill could be thrown out in court

A constitutional amendment is clearly a more difficult path, which is why many fear that sports betting in Georgia is doomed to fail again. Cowsert pushed for the change because he fears that an unconstitutional amendment bill could be defeated in court if someone mounts a legal challenge because sports betting was not included in the 1992 referendum that approved the lottery.

Other supporters of the constitutional amendment say it’s only fair to let state voters decide since they didn’t vote on sports betting in 1992.

money for education

One of the main reasons lawmakers want to legalize sports betting is to fund public preschool classes and the HOPE scholarship program. The HOPE Scholarship, which provides partial or full scholarships to students who achieve at least a 3.0 grade point average and enroll in a public school, has been so popular since its inception in 1993 that the state treasury has had difficulty keeping up with it to keep up with demand.

Sports betting could contribute another $100 million per year

Georgia Lottery money goes to those academic programs, but lawmakers estimate sports betting could contribute another $100 million a year.

Some proponents of the constitutional amendment — particularly Democrats — supported it because it would allow tax revenue from sports betting to go toward programs other than just preschool and the HOPE scholarship. For some, need-based scholarships are particularly important; The HOPE scholarship is performance-based.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where similar bills have failed in past years, often due to disputes over unrelated issues. With the constitutional amendment likely to be an issue in addition to the usual bickering in the House, the hope is that lawmakers will have time to ask questions and hash out their differences when they arrive nearly two months before the end of the legislative session on March 28.


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