After a year of ups and downs on the legislative side for legalizing sports betting in the Peach State, the Georgia Senate voted against legalizing bills SB67 and SR140, while HB380 didn’t even get put to the vote in the House. The outcome of that move means that legal Georgia sports betting will likely have to wait longer.
While 2023 may look like a failure for sports betting as a whole, a closer look reveals the steady progress made by legislative efforts in the state. In March 2023, Rep. Ron Stephens amended two gambling bills passed in 2021, both approved by a House committee.
Examining the Georgia Sports Betting Bills
One of these bills proposed a voter referendum to permit all forms of gambling in the state, while the other focused on mobile and retail wagering legislation. In the end, SR135 was replaced, while SB142 didn’t reach the House floor.
Legal sports betting in Georgia has received growing support from multiple stakeholders, including a coalition of professional sports teams from Atlanta, including the Atlanta Hawks. At a late hearing in 2021, Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin labeled sports betting an essential part of teams’ efforts to engage with fans.
Earlier that year, FanDuel announced its plans to open an IT and production facility in Atlanta, adding to the growing list of voices in favor of legalizing sports wagering in the state. However, Georgia’s stance is weakened by the lack of commercial or tribal casinos on state soil, despite having a lottery system in place since 1992.
Last week, the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCGLS) convened for the body’s annual winter meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. After the meeting, Georgia representatives remained pessimistic about any positive traction in 2024.
Strong Betting Interest In Georgia
As the eighth-most populous state in the United States, with a population of 11.029 million people as of 2023, George remains the third-largest state without legal online sports betting. Throughout the 2023 NFL season, GeoComply recorded 1.5 million attempts at betting from Georgia alone, indicating a strong interest in betting and gaming activity from the state’s football fans.
Despite Georgia’s lack of legal wagering options, three state representatives attended the NCLGS to find a way forward. “As a member of the regulating industry committee in Georgia, it’s unbelievable we live in a state that passed the lottery in 1992 and has not looked at any form of gambling since,” said Georgia Rep. and NCLGS secretary Al Williams. “Many of my colleagues have been hypocritical on this issue because they go to other states and enjoy themselves.”
Georgia’s bordering state, Mississippi, has several retail sports betting options, while Tennessee allows betting online. Hard Rock Bet was re-launched in Florida at the end of 2023. More recently, the neighboring state of North Carolina revealed its plans to legalize mobile sports betting ahead of March Madness tournament games.
Speaking on the College Football Playoff semifinals, Williams added, “In spite of there being a law against [it], everybody wanted to play this past weekend. I’d love to know how much money we left on the table this past weekend.”
Next Legislative Sessions Holds Some Hope
Georgia Representative Debra Bazemore also attended the meeting with other state reps, saying, “So prior to coming here, I listened to my colleagues who, now I believe, do not have had the inside information. They didn’t have all the information, and that’s what I want to get so that I can make an educated decision.”
State Senator Brandon Beach revealed his intentions to reconsider the state’s gaming legislation approach in the next session. According to him, a new constitutional amendment will authorize sports betting, casino gaming, and pari-mutuel wagering in the state. According to Bazemore, state legislators are torn on the subject, while a handful of lawmakers are wholly opposed to legalization, regardless of the many perceived benefits for the state.
One part of Bazemore’s constituency has expressed concerns about gambling addiction and the other perceived risks of legalized sports betting. In contrast, others note the contributions that could be made towards economic development. Bazemore closed her statement by noting that legislators are reluctant to take responsibility for whatever the fallout may be.