Georgia Lawmakers Finally Introduced Rumored Sports Betting Bill

Posted on February 25, 2020 - Last Updated on March 20, 2020

A new Georgia sports betting bill represents a gamble in and of itself. Setting the market for its enactment is hard, as there are a lot of moving parts right now.

Regardless of its fate, its introduction represents the fulfillment of a promise. If it fails, however, it could frustrate the parties behind that commitment.

Details on the Georgia sports betting bill’s path ahead

As Atlanta’s professional sports teams predicted, a member of the state legislature has filed a bill to legalize wagering on sporting events. State Senator Burt Jones filed SB 403 last Thursday.

Since he bill has four other sponsors, it’s likely to see discussion and a vote in the Senate’s Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee. It’s unclear when those events could take place.

While Jones is not on that committee, three of the four other sponsors do have seats there. That means it has a strong chance to progress to the full Senate floor.

Whether or not it will see a vote there is less certain right now, however. There is one issue that could cause dissent among Senators regarding the bill.

Why some GA legislators may hesitate to approve

The biggest reason that some members of either of Georgia’s two legislative chambers may vote no on this bill, if it comes to a vote that is, is its prescribed course to enactment. The bill essentially sidesteps a more rigorous path.

The bill does not include language that would amend the state’s constitution. Instead, similar to Tennessee’s legal framework, the bill authorizes the state’s lottery to offer wagering on sports.

That could be an issue because some legislators may see a constitutional amendment as necessary to authorize any new form of gambling. Jones sees his bill as simply a way to bring activity currently on the black market into a regulated space, however.

“It’s going on currently. And so we feel like — much like the internet sales tax — that it’s just an opportunity for us to capitalize on an entity that’s already operating.”

The comparison Jones draws upon is a Georgia law scheduled to take effect April 1. It essentially expands the state’s sales tax so that it applies to third-party vendor apps and websites for transactions like eBay and Poshmark.

The question of constitutionality may hinder this bill regardless of its merits. There may also be some legislators who oppose the bill on moral grounds.

That opposition is countered by support from Atlanta’s sports teams and some recent momentum on this issue, however. For those supporters, it’s crucial to build on that momentum.

Who is on Jones’ side in Georgia right now?

The Atlanta Braves, Falcons, Hawks, and Atlanta United are firmly behind the idea of legalizing sports betting. Atlanta Motor Speedway has thrown its support behind the notion as well.

Additionally, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston agrees that there is a market for the activity. The state also did a gambling expansion study last year and now seems an appropriate time to introduce this bill. It will be on Jones and others to push their platform among members of their party now.

Most of the other legislators who have gone on record on the issue have expressed that it isn’t a priority for them as opposed to outright opposition, so that’s a positive for Jones. There is still a long road ahead either way, and that’s a good thing for Tennessee

It now looks like legal sportsbooks in TN won’t launch until late this summer, so the longer the legislative process takes in Georgia, the better for them. If that process moves quickly, the chances to pull tax dollars from GA residents lessen.

The best-case scenario for Tennessee sportsbooks is that Georgia takes years to legalize wagering, if ever. If enough GA legislators stick to their guns about requiring a constitutional amendment, that may end up being the case.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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