A proposed constitutional amendment to put legal sports betting on the state ballot in 2024 has died in the Georgia Senate.
The Senate proposal (SR 140) needed 38 votes in favor of the amendment – two-thirds of the 56-member Senate – to advance to the House. Instead, the Senate on Monday voted 30-26 for the measure, effectively ending its chance at passage this legislative session.
Monday’s vote followed nearly an hour-long debate led by amendment sponsor and Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee Chair Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, who told his colleagues “the only fair way” to legalize sports betting in Georgia is through the state constitution.
“I don’t get why it’s wrong to let the people of Georgia vote on this issue. We’re not mini dictators up here,” Cowsert said before the Senate proposal fell short of the votes.
Cowsert: Give ‘Fair Consideration’ of Proposed Amendment
Cowsert told fellow senators to give SR 140 “fair consideration” minutes before the proposal fell short of the 38-vote threshold. He said the proposal would allow voters to set aside millions in state revenue from sports betting for need-based education funding.
Voter approval of the amendment would have generated at least $50 million in need-based college and technical education scholarships a year, Cowsert said. Remaining revenue would have gone to rural health care and economic development (25 percent), problem gambling programs (15 percent), and sports promotion in Georgia (5 percent).
“Let the people decide. Let kids that can’t afford to go to college and technical school have a chance,” Cowsert urged the Senate.
Cowsert asked his colleagues to vote against three amendments to SR 140 that would have gutted parts of the proposal. Sponsored by Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, the amendments would have stripped language allowing sports betting revenue for needs-based education and promotion of Georgia pro sports franchises, while allowing casino gambling (now illegal in the Peach State).
The Senate voted down all three amendments, which Cowsert had called “poison pills” meant to kill his proposal. But the threshold for passage of SR 140 still couldn’t be reached.
Constitutional Path to Georgia Sports Betting Still Open in House
A constitutional path to legal sports betting still has another shot this session.
Another proposed constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting in Georgia is pending in the state House. That proposal (HR 210) would allow voters to authorize legislative approval of sports betting, pari-mutuel betting, and casino gambling by amendment in Nov. 2024. But the window to get the proposal through this session is short-lived.
Today is Crossover day in the Georgia General Assembly — meaning a bill must pass the chamber where it originated in order to advance to the other chamber by session’s end. That only gives HR 210 until close of business in the House today to make it through to the Senate.
Is a Constitutional Amendment for Sports Betting Even Necessary in Georgia?
Some Georgia lawmakers – including Cowsert – contend a constitutional amendment is needed to legalize sports betting in the state. Only a state lottery is permitted under the state constitution, they say.
“I don’t believe that you can call sports betting a lottery game. It is not a traditional lottery game. Lottery games are draw games,” Cowsert said during Monday’s floor debate on SR 140.
Not everyone apparently sees sports betting outside the lottery, including Rep. Marcus Wiedower, R-Watkinsville. He is the sponsor of HB 380, which would authorize up to 16 online sportsbooks regulated by the Georgia Lottery without a constitutional amendment.
HB 380 is expected to come to the House floor sometime today.
Supporters of HB 380 expect it to generate at least $100 million in the first year of legal sports betting alone through a 25 percent tax on adjusted gross revenue from online sportsbooks.
A Senate bill that would have legalized sports betting and fixed-odds horse race betting and casino gambling in Georgia without a constitutional amendment was defeated by a vote of 19-37 on March 2.
The last day of the 40-day regular session of the 2023 Georgia General Assembly is scheduled for March 30.
photo by: Jim Larkin