Georgia Sports Betting Referendum Moves Towards Ballot

Posted on: February 27, 2024, 04:37h. 

Last updated on: February 27, 2024, 04:37h.

Georgia sports betting is a big step closer to reality after the state Senate this afternoon voted in favor of allowing residents to decide the gaming expansion outcome.

Georgia sports betting referendum
Georgia state Senators watch the vote board on Senate Resolution 579, a measure proposing an amendment to the Georgia Constitution to allow sports betting, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. The resolution secured the needed two-thirds support to move to the House of Representatives. (Image: AP)

Senate Resolution 579 seeks to allow state voters in November to cast their stance on whether the Georgia General Assembly should possess the power to legalize sports betting. The resolution would amend the Georgia Constitution to permit gambling on college and professional sports, so long as the General Assembly passes legislation to regulate the activity.

The bipartisan resolution was introduced earlier this month by four Republicans and two Democrats. The bill found widespread support today, as the Senate voted 41-12 to move the measure to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

SR 579 proposes allowing online and retail sportsbooks. Oddsmakers would pay a to-be-determined tax on their gross sports betting revenue, with 80% of the tax benefit allocated to the state’s college tuition program called HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally). The remaining taxes would fund responsible gaming programs and an initiative to recruit major sporting events to Georgia.

Lawmakers Seek Public Input

Earlier this month, some Georgia senators opined that the state could authorize sports gambling without a constitutional amendment.

Senate Bill 386 — legislation to allow sports betting to be classified as a lottery game and full under the regulatory scope of the Georgia Lottery — cleared the Senate on Feb. 1. However, many of the 35 senators who voted in favor of the sports betting bill attached a provision requiring a ballot referendum amending the Georgia Constitution to enact the bill.

The amendment add-on upset SB 385 sponsors, including Sen. Jason Esteves (D-Atlanta).

This issue is frustrating because so many of us generally agree about it, but year after year we see it get stuck,” Esteves said.

SR 579, introduced after the amendment outcome to SB 386, hasn’t yet got stuck. Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) says handing controversial matters to voters is typically good politics.

I think it’s the politically appropriate thing to do when we make this type of major policy shift,” said Cowsert. “This is to give voters the opportunity to speak on the issue.”

Before voters will get their say, SR 579 requires the same two-thirds majority support that was realized in the Senate. If at least 119 members in the 180-person state House lend their support, the ballot referendum will be certified.

Odds Remain Long

SB 385 cosponsors say a referendum will bring out the state’s many religious lobbying organizations to try and scare Georgians from voting in favor of sports gambling. But Cowsert believes the General Assembly legalizing sports betting as a lottery game would have resulted in costly legal challenges.

“Until you know this is constitutional, there will be plenty of [legal] challenges,” Cowsert said.

Cowsert added that even Georgians who support sports betting would likely agree that they didn’t legalize gambling on sports back in 1992 when the Georgia Constitution was amended to form the Georgia Lottery.

“There is no way the people of Georgia when they passed that constitutional amendment for the lottery believed it would authorize the General Assembly to say that sports betting is a lottery game,” Cowsert stated.

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