Georgia lawmakers on Tuesday took a second look at an online sports betting bill, as two proposed constitutional amendments surfaced that could shake up the bill’s chance at becoming law.
Under the online sports betting legislation (HB 380), up to 16 mobile sports betting apps regulated by the Georgia Lottery would be authorized by statute – not the state constitution. Online betting would be allowed on professional and college sports, auto racing, esports, the Olympics, and other events authorized by the lottery before the 2024 Super Bowl.
State Rep. Marcus Wiedower, R-Watkinsville, is the bill’s sponsor. Wiedower told the House Higher Education Committee during its second hearing on the bill Tuesday that a change to the proposed tax rate in his bill – from 15 percent to 20 percent on adjusted gross revenue, with no deductions for promotions – would generate $75 million to $100 million for lottery education programs.
That’s the statutory route. There’s still a chance that sports betting could be decided by the voters if the issue goes on the ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment. Two proposed amendments that would allow Georgia voters to decide next year at the earliest whether sports betting should be legal in the state were filed around Feb. 15. Both resolutions – pending in the Senate and House – are awaiting committee hearings.
Atlanta’s five pro sports franchises (Falcons, Braves, Hawks, Thrashers, United FC), Augusta National, the PGA Tour, Atlanta Motor Speedway, and the Georgia Lottery would each be eligible for a sports betting license. Seven additional licenses would be put up for bid.
But what happens next on HB 380, the proposed amendments, or even perhaps a fourth bill that would legalize sports betting and fixed-odds horse race betting, remains to be seen.
Does Georgia Sports Betting Require a Constitutional Change?
At least one Georgia legal expert – former Georgia Chief Justice Harold Melton – has reportedly said sports betting doesn’t need a constitutional amendment to be legalized in the Peach State. According to a Feb. 19 Albany Herald report, Melton wrote a memo stating that sports betting has three elements – prize, consideration, and chance – that allow it to constitutionally qualify as a game under the Georgia Lottery.
The Metro Atlanta Chamber is relying on that argument in its push to legalize online sports betting in Georgia under Wiedower’s bill.
MTA Government Affairs Director Nick Fernandez testified in favor of HB 380 at Tuesday’s hearing. He called the proposal “a Georgia-based solution” to fuel economic investments and backfill state education scholarships and grants. Georgia Lottery proceeds have traditionally gone to education, including pre-K and HOPE needs.
“Now certainly looking at the opportunity at $75-100 million, there’s certainly a great opportunity for the state’s HOPE merit-based scholarships. HOPE career grants, college completion grants, pre-K funding, all the current avenues that lottery funds are going toward would be benefited by the sports betting revenues that would be generated through this bill,” said Fernandez.
No vote was taken on the bill Tuesday. House Higher Education Committee Chair Chuck Martin said additional hearings will be held on the bill at a later date.
How The Constitutional Amendment Proposals Differ
As for the proposed amendments — those would require voter approval before lawmakers could even consider legal sports betting through statute.
The proposed amendments are slightly different. The House proposal asks voters if they support allowing state lawmakers to pass legislation allowing sports betting, pari-mutuel horse race betting, and casino gambling in the state. All three options are prohibited under current Georgia law.
The Senate proposal is specifically directed at legal sports betting.
The leagues and sports betting operators seem to prefer HB 380 to any proposed constitutional change. NFL lobbyist Ronnie Chance kept his testimony on the bill short before the committee on Tuesday.
“On behalf of the NFL, we support this legislation,” he said.
Following Chance was DraftKings Government Affairs Counsel John Mohrmann, who testified in favor of HB 380 on behalf of the Sports Betting Alliance comprised of DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, and Fanatics sportsbooks.
“This bill in its current form represents a compromise between many stakeholders, not the least of which is this very committee and the other members of the Georgia General Assembly,” Mohrmann said. He used the moment to add that the latest version of the bill (with a higher tax rate and no promotions deductions) is “amenable” to the alliance.
“Although the Sports Betting Alliance would welcome promotional deductions at a 15 percent tax rate, we heard a number of concerns of the committee last week and are amenable with the bill no longer allowing promotional deductions and having an increased tax rate of 20 percent,” he said.
What’s Next For Georgia Sports Betting?
It will ultimately be up to state lawmakers if they go the route of a proposed amendment or statute alone to legalize sports betting in Georgia. Of course, they may choose to do nothing.
Gaming Today will keep readers informed of future developments.