Georgia Voters Could Get Chance to Decide on Sports Betting

Posted on: March 25, 2021, 05:23h. 

Last updated on: March 26, 2021, 04:35h.

Georgia voters could be closer to having a say in whether they want to legalize online sports betting in the state.

Rep. Ron Stephens
Rep. Ron Stephens addresses an audience at a legislative event. Stephens supports online sports betting in the state. (Image: USA Today Network News)

A key committee this week voted in favor of a measure requiring a constitutional amendment on sports betting, according to the Capitol Beat website. The Georgia House of Representatives’ Economic Development and Tourism Committee also approved a bill regarding management of sports betting in the state.

If approved by two-thirds of both legislative chambers, the proposed amendment would go before Georgia voters during the next election.

Rep. Ron Stephens (R) initially said he thought online sports betting would not require a constitutional amendment. He earlier introduced a measure requiring only a majority vote in both legislative chambers before the bill would go to the governor for consideration.

However, Stephens said the Senate’s support of a constitutional amendment makes sense for the House, too. 

The Senate decided to take the route of a constitutional amendment, and I’m OK with that,” Stephens said. “It removes all doubt, if there is any, that this can be legal.”

The two measures addressing online sports betting were referred to the House Rules Committee on Thursday. These are Senate Resolution 135, proposing a constitutional amendment allowing sports betting, and Senate Bill 142, authorizing the Georgia Lottery Corp. to manage sports wagering.

The legislative session ends Wednesday at the Capitol in Atlanta. This gives lawmakers only a few days to decide on sports betting or any other legislative matter.

Pro Teams Support Sports Betting

Stephens is among sports betting proponents who say millions of Georgians already bet on sports illegally. That costs the state tax money that could go to education and other programs, he said. Some Georgians also are going into Tennessee to bet on sporting events, using their smartphones. Tennessee legalized online sports betting in the fall. 

“If we make it legal, we’ll get revenue out of it,” Stephens said.

Opponents contend any gambling leads to an increase in crime and can shatter families that fall into a financial hole from continued losses.

Atlanta’s four major professional sports teams have joined together in an effort to win approval of sports betting in the state. Those teams are the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Hawks, and Atlanta United.

In the vote this week, the House committee agreed to allow betting only on professional sporting events, and not college games. 

“For us to fight chancellors of these colleges would be an uphill battle,” Stephens said. “For me, I want to get this thing started.”

Money Earmarked for Education

Under the proposed constitutional amendment, 20 percent of net proceeds from online sports betting would go to the state, according to Capitol Beat.

Of that, 40.5 percent would go to Georgia’s HOPE scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs. Programs for needs-based scholarships would receive 20.5 percent of sports betting tax revenue.

Additional amounts would go to broadband services in rural Georgia, rural health care, and mental health services. A smaller portion would be used to help attract major sporting events to Georgia.