For a few weeks, there was optimism that sports betting legislation was headed in the right direction in Georgia. Those hopes have now officially ended, and it could be at least two years before any sports betting legislation is back on the table.
The topic of sports betting was included in a pair of expanded gambling bills, but both bills have died out at the last second. Gambling laws are extremely restrictive in Georgia, but lawmakers were hopeful that things would turn out differently this year.
House Bill 903 and Senate Resolution 841 were both proposed earlier this year, and they were progressing through each individual chamber. Sports betting was added to each bill as lawmakers were hoping that taxing sports betting revenue could solve some budget issues in the state.
Georgia is facing a massive budget deficit over the next fiscal year, and the coronavirus pandemic played a big role in this. Other states have solved budget issues by expanded gambling laws, and lawmakers in Georgia were trying to introduce the same model.
The legislative session ended on Friday night, and both bills were still stuck in committee at that time. There was hope that something would get done in the final week, but politics got in the way, and no progress was made.
Sports betting revenue was set to be taxed at 10 percent, and lawmakers estimated that the state could see between $50 and $60 million each year in taxes. This would keep the state from cutting several other programs, but it became clear that the Senate was not ready to vote on any of these bills.
The tax revenue was set to go into two separate accounts to fund various projects throughout the state. The Emergency Powers Fund would have been set up, and a majority of the taxes would have gone into that fund.
Other tax revenue was set to go into the Opportunity Fund, which would help provide education to families that are under the median income level.
Next Gubernatorial Election Could be Key
Representative Ron Stephens was the sponsor of SR841, and he feels that political parties kept the bills from getting out of committee. Stephens is a Republican, and he believes that the Democrat legislators intentionally kept these issues in committee.
Stephens believes that the Democrats will use sports betting as a campaign promise in the next gubernatorial election. Georgia is set to elect a new governor in 2022, and expanded gambling and sports betting will be a hot topic of debate.
Even though new bills will have to be introduced in 2022, lawmakers will likely use the same framework of these bills to get something done quickly.
Referendum Had Interesting Language
Other states have been able to legalize expanded gambling by placing a referendum on the ballots, and Georgia lawmakers were looking to go the same route. Lawmakers were confident that enough voters would support the referendum, but they could not get it passed through the legislature.
A majority of lawmakers were in support of sports betting, but expanding all gaming laws were too tough to swallow. Georgia has not supported gaming, and legislators did not want to upset their constituents by voting for a bill that allowed casino and racetrack betting.
If the referendum passed, each county would get to determine where gambling could take place. Sports betting would have been limited to racetracks and casinos, but new locations could have been built.
Even if voters across the state were in favor of expanding gaming laws, they will not get the chance to vote on the issue. It’s likely that a referendum will be the route that is eventually taken, but voters will have to wait until 2022.