The good news for Georgians who would like to wager a few bucks on their favorite team now and then: the Georgia Senate passed a bill that would legalize online sports betting in the state. The bad news about Senate Bill 386: the Senate also attached an amendment that would require a constitutional amendment to make sports betting a reality. It is that amendment that puts the legislation in jeopardy.
up to 16 sports betting licenses
The bill, which passed easily in a bipartisan 35-15 vote on Thursday, authorizes the Georgia Lottery to issue up to 16 sports betting licenses. Seven could go to gaming companies such as BetMGM and FanDuel, three would be given to the PGA, Augusta National Golf Club, and Atlanta Motor Speedway, and five would go to the state’s major professional sports teams: MLB’s Atlanta Braves, NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, and MLS’ Atlanta United.
The last license would be held by the Georgia Lottery itself.
Gross gaming revenue would be taxed at 20%. The seven licenses for the independent companies would come with a $100,000 application fee and a $1m annual fee.
Constitution amendment is a huge obstacle
That the Senate passed the bill is all well and good, but it also passed Republican Sen. Bill Cowsert’s amendment that would require a constitutional amendment before sports betting would become legal in the state. Constitutional amendments necessitate 38 votes in the Senate (two-thirds of the chamber), more than the bill received, and a statewide referendum voted upon by Georgia residents.
non-constitutional amendment law could get shot down in court
A constitutional amendment is clearly a more difficult path to passage, making many fear that sports betting is doomed to fail once again in Georgia. Cowsert pushed for the amendment because he is afraid that because sports betting wasn’t included in the 1992 referendum that authorized the lottery, a non-constitutional amendment law could get shot down in court if someone presented a legal challenge.
Other proponents of the constitutional amendment route believe it is only fair to allow state voters to decide, since sports betting was not what they voted on in 1992.
Money for education
One of the primary reasons lawmakers are eager to legalize sports betting is to fund public pre-K classes and the HOPE Scholarship program. The HOPE Scholarship, which awards partial or full college scholarships to students who achieve at least a 3.0 GPA and enroll in an in-state school, has been so popular since it was created in 1993 that the state coffers have had trouble keeping up with demand.
sports betting could contribute another $100m per year
Funds from the Georgia Lottery go toward these academic programs, but lawmakers believe that sports betting could contribute another $100m per year.
Some supporters of the constitutional amendment – Democrats, in particular – favored it because it would allow sports betting tax revenue to go to other programs other than just pre-K and the HOPE Scholarship. Specifically important to some are need-based scholarships; the HOPE Scholarship is merit-based.
The bill now moves on to the Senate, where similar bills have gone to die in previous years, often because of fights about unrelated issues. With the constitutional amendment a likely problem in addition to the usual bickering in the House, the hope is that getting it over there nearly two months before the March 28 end of the legislative session will give Representatives time to ask questions and hash out their differences.
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