Deadline Looms for Gambling Bills at Georgia Legislature

Posted on: March 4, 2021, 01:27h. 

Last updated on: March 4, 2021, 04:04h.

With mobile sports betting bills in the balance, a pass-or-fail deadline is looming at the Georgia Legislature.

Jeff Mullis
State Sen. Jeff Mullis (R) gestures during a 2019 legislative hearing. Mullis has sponsored legislation to allow sports betting in Georgia. (Image: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Bills to allow mobile sports betting in the state are up for consideration in the Georgia House and Senate at the Capitol in Atlanta. The Legislature also is considering bills to permit commercial casinos and horse tracks. 

However, March 8 is crossover day, the deadline for bills to pass in their original chamber or die for the year. Bills can be brought back after crossover day, though failure to pass in the original chamber by that date signals a lack of support.

The House mobile sports betting bill, by Rep. Ron Stephens (R), would tax sports betting revenue at 20 percent. A Senate version would set the tax rate at 10 percent. Revenue from both would benefit education programs.

The Senate bill, by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R), would prohibit bettors from depositing more than $2,500 a month in their online account. The intent is to keep problem gamblers from going deep into debt. This provision was lifted from Tennessee’s online betting program. Mullis is from Chickamauga, near Chattanooga, Tenn. Mobile sports betting became legal in Tennessee in November.

The Senate bill is being paired with a proposal to amend the state constitution to allow sports betting. Some believe the constitutional amendment is necessary. An amendment requires a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber and public approval during a statewide election.

Others think sports betting legislation only would need a majority vote in each chamber and the governor’s signature to become law. Those who support this model say sports betting won’t require a constitutional amendment, since it would be run by the Georgia Lottery Corp. The constitution was amended to allow the lottery in 1992. The Senate bill refers to sports betting as a “lottery game.” Casinos and pari-mutual betting are constitutionally prohibited in the state.

Horse Track Bill Under Consideration

In addition to sports betting legislation, Stephens has introduced a bill that would allow horse racing in the state. 

Similar efforts have failed in previous legislative sessions. Stephens named this bill the Harry Geisinger Rural Jobs and Growth Act, according to the Georgia Recorder. This is a reference to a state lawmaker who supported horse racing measures in the past. 

At a House committee hearing, Stephens said racetracks would benefit Georgia farmers whose fields were damaged in a 2018 hurricane, the Georgia Recorder reported.

“It allows them to get into the industry on the low-end, and then move up, depending on how they purchase and sell horses, so it’s an additional industry,” he said. “It reminds me of somebody that, the wind comes down and blows down their corn farm. Well, they’ve got chickens and hogs as backup.”

Casino Measure Stalls

Stephens’ horse racing bill would require a constitutional amendment and public approval in an election. Under the bill, three horse tracks would be allowed in the state. Other types of gambling, including casino gaming, would not be allowed at the track.

Stephens also has introduced a bill to permit commercial casinos in Georgia. It also would require a constitutional amendment. The Georgia General Assembly website indicates the casino bill has been stuck in a House committee since Feb. 16.

According to the Associated Press, it is unclear whether the casino and horse racing bills “will gain any traction” this year.