Georgia Lawmakers Take Aim At Sports Betting, November Referendum

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Georgia backers haven’t lost hope that they can pass sports betting legislation in 2022, even if the clock is ticking — and fast. 

On Monday, a key House committee passed two pieces of sports betting legislation that could pave the way for a statewide referendum on the issue come November. 

But they are up against a tight clock. The Peach State legislature adjourns April 4. 

“All you are doing today (is) taxing and regulating — and that’s all,” Rep. Ron Stephens told members of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee, “… and that’s because they’re already doing sports betting.”

Voters Must Approve Expanded Gambling Opportunities

Stephens sponsored House Bill 86.  The focus of the hearing was its companion legislation in the Senate, Senate Bill 142 and Senate Resolution 135

SR 135 calls for a referendum this fall for Georgia voters to allow for gambling. Under existing Georgia law, no gambling is authorized. In order for voters to get to that point, the measure must pass both the House and Senate by two-thirds votes. 

The proposal allows mobile sports betting but also opens the door to additional gambling opportunities such as horse racing and casinos. In order to expand retail gambling opportunities, voters in interested counties would then have to approve that as well. 

This potential expansion alarmed opponents who repeatedly tried to amend the legislation to deal specifically with sports betting.  

Rep. Randy Nix asked why the legislation could not stipulate only sports betting if that was its intent.  

“We are talking about sports betting, I would like to make our constitutional amendment be explicitly that,” he said.

But legislative analysts and Stephens himself said it would be too problematic to extend just one type of betting in a referendum. 

Sports Betting Authorization Approved

SB 142 establishes the framework for how sports betting would operate in the Peach State should the referendum pass. Provisions of the legislation include: 

  • $100,000 application fee for mobile apps, with a $1 million annual renewal fee;
  • A cap of 18 mobile apps, with a minimum of nine to be affiliated with Georgia businesses and sports teams;
  • Creation of the Georgia Sports Betting Commission to manage the program in the event the referendum (SR 135) passes.

Revenue Raised Supports Education And Sporting Events

Sports betting revenue would be taxed at 20%. Stephens mentioned one of the benefits of the legislation would be establishing what he called a “marketing seed fund” to help hotels and other tourism officials promote events.  

For example, he noted that officials with FIFA – which he repeatedly mispronounced poking fun at himself in the process – had told him such a fund would be helpful.  

“It connects the dots,” he said.

About the Author

Mary M. Shaffrey

Mary Shaffrey is an award-winning journalist who co-authored "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Government." She has spent more than 20 years covering government, both at the state and federal level. As a fan of the Baltimore Orioles and the Providence College Friars she feels cursed. Luckily she is a hockey mom too so her spirits aren't totally shot.

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