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On the second day of the 2024 legislative session, Georgia State Senators began another attempt to legalize sports betting.
The Senate Regulated Industries Committee advanced Senate Bill 172 by an 8-4 vote. The measure now goes to the full Senate for more debate. SB 172 would allow sports betting in the Peach State with the aid of a constitutional amendment and set up a gaming commission to regulate the industry.
Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) is the bill’s sponsor and said he believes there will be a “push” from some constituents.
And I just think it may be time and I certainly wanted us to address the issue this year, list, decide it once and for all, and move on.”
In 2023, several bills failed that aimed to legalize sports betting, including online and in-person at sportsbook kiosks.
The 2024 legislative session is the sixth consecutive term with at least one bill aimed at gaming expansion on the docket in either chamber.
State of Play in Georgia
SB 172 doesn’t legalize sports betting on its own. Lawmakers must draft another proposed constitutional amendment, which would then require approval by two-thirds of the House and the Senate, and approval from Georgia voters.
Sen. Cowsert said an amendment is needed because Georgia voters approved a lottery in 1992 when sports bets could only be placed in-person in a Nevada casino.
“There’s no way that was contemplated when the voters allowed lotteries, in my opinion,” Cowsert said.
The Georgia constitution currently prohibits gambling. Cowsert said he believes legalizing sports betting through a constitutional amendment will reduce legal issues around the law if it passes.
As reported previously by Casino.org, former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton wrote in an opinion last year that sports betting doesn’t require a constitutional amendment.
Proposals, Paths, and Opposition
After the former Chief Justice’s opinion, and the rejection of bills to legalize sports betting last year, the search for other paths toward legalized sports betting intensified.
One potential option was for the Assembly to deem sports gambling as a lottery, and allow the Georgia Lottery to regulate online sportsbooks. The legislative bar for that approach is slightly lower, needing only simple majority support in the House and Senate.
State Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) said in December he plans to introduce such legislation. Sen. Beach wants to bring three casino resorts, a pari-mutuel race track, and mobile sportsbooks to the state.
There are differing opinions on destinations for gambling proceeds. Many Democrats want sports betting to fund needs-based college scholarships. Many Republicans, on the other hand, oppose the passage of sports betting on moral grounds.
Currently, 38 states and the District of Columbia allow some form of sports betting.
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