Georgia lawmakers are slowly making progress with the possible introduction of online sports gambling in the state. Before any final decision can be made, state residents will have to weigh in on the matter, but that can’t happen without a constitutional amendment.
With legislation in hand, lawmakers have been steadily working on putting the issue before voters in the 2022 elections, and, based on the track record so far, it is beginning to look like Georgia has a good chance of becoming one of the growing numbers of legal sports gambling states. The latest hurdle was the House of Representatives Economic Development & Tourism Committee, which approved the constitutional amendment earlier this week.
Georgia House Committee Advances Sports Gambling
Georgia’s Senate successfully – and overwhelmingly – passed a measure earlier this month that would put the subject of online sports gambling before voters. Senate Resolution 135 (SR 135) addressed the amendment needed to allow a ballot entry on the subject and passed 41-10 when the chamber discussed it at the beginning of the month. Now, media outlet Capitol Beat reports that the House Economic Development & Tourism Committee has also signed off on the measure, approving it by a 14-6 margin.
The subject of offering sports gambling is a contentious one in Georgia, as it has been in a number of states. As one of the so-called Bible Belt states, Georgia has a long-standing anti-gambling position that has supporters of the bill treading lightly.
However, as they continue to point out, state residents are already engaged in sports gambling, with some estimates indicating that as many as 2.3 million residents are using illegal or offshore sportsbooks. The legalization of the activity will allow the state to capture tax revenue while being able to formally address any potential gambling problems or addictions that could arise.
Legislative Framework Now Set In Stone
Because of Georgia’s conservative nature, introducing sports gambling is not something that can happen overnight. A few states have gone from legislation to live market in a matter of a few months, but Georgia’s efforts are going to take a few years. If SR 135 survives both chambers, residents won’t be able to vote on the matter until November 2022, when the state’s next elections are to be held. This means that it will be at least 2023 before the state could see online sports gambling go live.
Just to get this far, there were some challenges, but the framework is now established and, if approved by the General Assembly, can’t be changed. 20% of the sportsbooks’ revenue will go to the state, instead of the 16% the Senate had suggested, which will be used for several programs.
40.5% will be destined for the state’s HOPE Scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs, while 20.5% will be used for need-based scholarships. Expansion of broadband to rural areas of the state, mental health services, and rural health care will each receive 12%. The remaining 3% will be used for a marketing fund designed to bring major sports events to the state.
Resistance Still Remains
Despite having garnered enough support from lawmakers so far, final legislative approval, and approval from residents, is not guaranteed. Even as sports gambling is being viewed as a necessary means of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, there is still resistance, as evidenced by North Dakota’s recent rejection.
Some anti-gambling groups are concerned that allowing online sports gambling will only lead to more gambling addiction, despite no concrete data to support the theory, and Georgia faces a few more hurdles before a final decision is made. One of those hurdles could be cleared soon. The House Rules Committee could put SR 135 to a vote today.