Time’s Up: Long Shot Georgia Sports Betting Bill Dies As Session Ends

Posted on July 1, 2020

Georgia sports betting won’t pose a threat to legal sportsbooks in Tennessee this year.

A last-ditch effort to push a bill that would have legalized online betting in the Peach State didn’t get the necessary support before the legislative term ended.

How far the measure could have gone without COVID-19 concerns dominating the conversation in Atlanta is unclear. However, the conversation in GA’s capital clearly revealed one thing: There still isn’t a consensus on how and whether the state should expand legal gambling.

Last-minute push for Georgia sports betting

One of the proponents of legalization didn’t sugarcoat the chances of legalization in the legislative term that ended Friday. GA Rep. Ron Stephens appropriately used a sports metaphor.

“I gave it a Hail Mary, but it didn’t get across the line.”

There were disagreements between legislators in Atlanta over whether expanding legal gambling at all was prudent. Supporters claimed that revenue from taxes on new gambling would help with the state’s budget shortfall.

Opponents, however, decried gambling on moral grounds.

Stephens, a Republican, also suggested that his colleagues on the other side of the aisle wanted to use gambling expansion as a political tool.

“Those on the other side are leaning toward holding these issues, and I mean all of these issues as far as gambling, until the next gubernatorial election so that they can serve it up on a silver platter for an enormous amount of votes. I gotta hand it to them; that’s smart if they’re going that direction.”

For whatever reason, the bill that would have given Georgians a regulatory framework for sports wagering is similar to the one in TN, which didn’t make it to the full floor in either the House or the Senate.

Stephens alluded to one wrinkle of the situation.

Two choices and both have risks

One of the reasons GA legislators opposed the measures put forth by Stephens and others was a belief that the only proper way to expand gambling is through a constitutional amendment.

The bills that died in committee wouldn’t have done that but rather added sports wagering under the umbrella of the only legal form of gambling in GA right now, the state lottery.

If Stephens and others attempt to go the same route in the next legislative session, they may encounter the same resistance.

That may not be as fierce, however. Other concerns, like eviction moratoriums and unemployment insurance measures, took priority in the past term.

Yet, an attempt to amend the state constitution presents risks as well. Gambling bill proponents would need to gather supermajorities in both chambers to pass the measure.

The proposal would then face a statewide referendum. In a state where there aren’t any casinos, that’s no sure thing.

There is some good news, however.

Stephens said his research shows that nearly three-fourths of Georgians want to vote on gambling expansion. A high number of those people would likely vote in the affirmative.

Sports betting would also have powerful allies in the state by way of professional sports franchises. The Atlanta Braves, Falcons, Hawks, along with the Atlanta Motor Speedway have all publicly supported legalization.

All those efforts will now have to wait for the next legislative term. For now, whenever sports betting apps go live in TN, they have a shot of pulling action from across the GA border.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. 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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