Georgia sports betting has a new chance at legalization under an amended soap box derby bill passed by a Senate committee Thursday.
The sports betting language — which does not appear to be a proposed constitutional amendment — was added to a stripped-down House Bill 237 by the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee on an 8-1 vote. It was an unexpected twist to sports betting talk in Georgia, where bills marked for sports betting failed to advance by the state legislature’s crossover deadline 10 days ago.
Sen. Derek Mallow, D-Savannah, who proposed the amendment in committee Thursday, called the changes the “Georgia Lottery for Education Act”. He said sports betting operators would be licensed and regulated by the lottery, with revenue taxed at 22 percent and earmarked for public education.
Little is known about the contents of the new language, which has yet to be posted on the Georgia General Assembly website. HB 237 is still marked online as a bill to designate the Southeast Georgia Soap Box Derby as the state’s official soap box derby.
HB 237 made its first pass to the Senate on Feb. 27 by a vote of 168-0.
Another amendment stripped the derby language at the request of the bill sponsor, Rep. Leesa Hagan, R-Lyons.
Lt. Governor May Have Helped Revive Sports Betting Issue in Georgia
The vote Thursday on HB 237 was unexpected by many following the Georgia sports betting debate, despite rumblings by House Speaker Jon Burns reported March 9 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Burns, R-Springfield, told the press that there was still a shot at legalization during the current legislative session, even after a handful of bills died before the March 6 crossover date.
“We don’t close the door on anything,” Burns said, according to the AJC.
The details behind the sports betting amendment remain murky. But Georgia Lt. Governor Burt Jones may have played a role in bringing the issue back to life. Jones has been a supporter of legal sports betting in Georgia for several years.
When Hagan asked that her soap box derby language be stripped from HB 237 before Thursday’s vote, Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee Chair Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, said he had spoken with Jones and would help find another path forward for Hagan’s bill.
Idea ‘Set Georgia Sports Betting Back Five Years’
Hagan had stated firmly before the committee vote that she did not see the changes to her bill before Thursday and never agreed to the sports betting amendment.
“I don’t want my soap box derby to be associated with sports betting, and I would request that you would strip my language from this amendment,” Hagan told the committee.
All soap box derby provisions were removed at her request before the committee voted on the revised bill.
The chances of HB 237’s passage in the Senate is uncertain. Senate Economic Development and Tourism Vice Chair Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, said before leaving the committee hearing abruptly before Thursday’s vote that the amended bill “will not pass” the Senate.
“Whoever came up with this idea just set sports betting back five years,” said Dugan. “When you hijack a soap box derby bill and put sports betting on the back of it? Every person who was on the fence in the state of Georgia has just picked a side of the fence.”
HB 237 as amended now goes to the full Senate, where it may be called to a vote in the coming days. The final day of the 2023 regular session of the Georgia General Assembly is March 29.