In many state legislatures, the coronavirus pandemic has overshadowed all other business matters. That’s the case with two Georgia sports betting bills.
HR 378 and SB 403 both failed to receive appropriate action before a state deadline. While the measures are dead, the bills’ legacies can live later this year.
Why did the two Georgia sports betting bills die?
Both bills would have called to amend the state’s constitution to allow for legal wagering on sporting events. Currently, the only form of legal gambling in GA is the lottery.
Because the bills were proposed constitutional amendments instead of alterations to the state’s code of laws, they faced a special deadline called “Crossover Day.” Amendments proposals must cross over to the opposite chambers of the GA Legislature they were proposed in by that date or they die.
Because neither bill was approved by the full bodies that members proposed them in, both failed to meet this year’s Crossover Day, which was on March 12. That means the legislature can’t act on them for the rest of the session.
It is possible for legislators to essentially re-write them as bills that would simply make additions, alterations, and deletions to the state code. That would allow legislators to consider them during this session. That may not prove prudent, however. Part of the reason why legislators wrote the bills as constitutional amendments was to gain their colleagues’ support.
Legislators have stated they prefer the state’s voters to decide the question of legal gambling expansion. Amending the state constitution requires a public referendum.
If the state legislature moves to expand gambling without such a vote, it may inspire others in the state to file lawsuits to block the move. The supporters of the amendment proposals thought they had enough support around the state to win a referendum and sidestep that issue.
The support of powerful interests in the state justifies that belief. That also creates a blueprint if the same legislators want to attempt another amendment in the next session.
Why another attempt in the next session may prove successful
The support of those groups and individuals will be pivotal if legislators try to amend the state’s Constitution in this way again. That will not only matter in terms of swaying other legislators to support the measure but persuade voters to approve a referendum as well.
The launch of legal sportsbooks in Tennessee could play a role as well. If those launch before the GA Legislature acts again, it will give proponents of legalization another argument to push the issue.
Those proponents could push the narrative that GA is losing tax dollars to TN if GA residents are crossing the state line to place legal wagers in TN. In the next session, legislators and voters may not be as concerned with more important issues like a viral pandemic that forces businesses to shut down.