Georgia sports betting has a last-minute chance to pass in 2021.
The House Committee on Rules advanced GA sports betting legislation back to the House floor Wednesday afternoon, where they now await action on the last day of the 2021 session.
Efforts to legalize were gummed up in the House in a political tug-of-war throughout March. The legislation was withdrawn from the House floor, recommitted to the Committee on Rules on March 25, and thought to be dead for the year.
The legislation would put sports betting on the 2022 ballot, allowing Georgia citizens the deciding votes.
A month of waiting in Georgia
Senators approved two pieces of legislation, SR 135 and SB 142, on March 5 and sent it on to the House.
A House bill, HB 86, to legalize sports betting also had gained support during the session. It was withdrawn in early March.
Legislators seemed to largely understand the movement of states across the country legalizing an activity likely taking place in Georgia already.
“All we’re doing is capturing the revenue on an activity that is currently going on,” Rep. Ron Stephens said during a March hearing.
Then Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill greatly reducing voting rights in the state, which emerged as an issue in the sports betting bill’s journey earlier this session.
Georgia sports betting hits politics
Following Republican efforts to limit voter rights, the Democrats dropped out of supporting sports betting.
While the Georgia House is a 103-76 majority, the issue requires a constitutional amendment and thus a two-thirds vote.
The Georgia NAACP came out in “full opposition” Wednesday to any legislation related to Georgia sports betting. The organization cited the state’s COVID-19 response and its constitutional challenge of the election reform law.
Did Republicans stub their toes?
It’s not just Democrats, however, as some conservatives remained staunchly anti-gambling.
“I don’t think we have to put our official stamp on it and say this is great stuff to do,” Republican Rep. Randy Nix said in a hearing, before voting no. “We’re going to sugarcoat it and fund all these things. I just don’t think this is a great idea.”
The legislation also stalled for a period of time when Republicans didn’t like NBA-led efforts against the voting bills during the All-Star Game in Atlanta, according to PlayGeorgia. Professional sports teams like the Atlanta Hawks are proponents of the sports betting bills.
Earmarked revenue from sports betting also an issue
Democrats also take issue with where funds would head.
Revenue from taxes on sports betting, like the lottery, would help the state’s education system. Most of the tax revenue would be earmarked for merit-based scholarships.
Several representatives spoke out during hearings with a desire to have more money head to needs-based scholarships.
What’s in the Georgia sports betting legislation?
The Georgia Lottery Corporation would operate sports betting in the state. At least six online sportsbook operators would receive licenses under the legislation.
Operators would pay an annual license fee of $100,000. The state would tax sports betting revenue at 20%.
The House committee stripped the Senate bill of allowing college sports betting.