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Georgia Senate gives sports betting legislation a chance to land on November ballot

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Georgia Senate gives sports betting legislation a chance to land on November ballot

Feb 28, 2024 | 2:00 am ET
By Stanley Dunlap
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Georgia Senate gives sports betting legislation a chance to land on November ballot
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The Atlanta Falcons football team is one of Georgia's major professional sports teams that formed an alliance in 2020 to support the legalization of sports betting in the state. Getty Images.

The Georgia Senate approved a plan on Tuesday that would allow Georgians to decide at the ballot box in November whether legalized sports betting should be allowed in the state.

Senate Resolution 579, which would set up a constitutional amendment referendum to sanction sports gambling in Georgia, was passed Tuesday by a vote of 41 to 12. The bipartisan support for Athens Republican Sen. Bill Cowsert’s legislation was comfortably large enough to meet the two-thirds majority required to amend the Georgia Constitution through a ballot referendum.

Cowsert’s resolution calls for the creation of a gaming commission to regulate the sports betting industry that officials are estimating could generate more than $100 million in annual tax revenue for the state.

On Feb. 1, the Senate adopted Sen. Clint Dixon’s SB 386 ,which established a framework for how sports gambling would operate in the Peach State. The Sandy Springs Republican’s bill proposes that the Georgia Lottery oversee the bidding process to award seven licenses to sports gambling companies. The other licenses would be distributed among Atlanta’s five major professional sports franchises, NASCAR, Georgia Lottery, PGA and Augusta National. Cowsert successfully amended Dixon’s bill by adding language that required the General Assembly to also adopt the amendment referendum.

Cowsert said Tuesday if Georgians agree to the constitutional amendment, then it helps the new industry withstand legal scrutiny rather than the Legislature unilaterally legalizing an expansion of legal gambling based on the theory that it can be treated the same as state lottery games.

Under Cowsert’s legislation, 80% of tax revenue the state receives would be allocated to the lottery’s education fund with first priority going toward pre-K programs and leftover money going toward HOPE collegiate scholarships. The other revenue would be split with 15% for educating the public about the dangers of gambling and 5% used to promote major sporting events in the state.

“The ballot question is just as clean and straightforward as it could be,” Cowsert said. “There is no way any voter would be confused by it.”

The measure’s passage in the Senate marked a significant milestone for legalized sports betting in Georgia after several years of unsuccessful attempts to legalize sports betting, horse racing, and casinos in conjunction or as standalones.

Republican Sen. Marty Harbin of Tyrone said the economic benefits of sports betting would be outweighed by the problems associated with gambling addiction that are harming people 30 and younger in states where it’s already legalized,

Harbin said that the state’s $16 billion budget surplus is more than enough to fund pre-K classes across Georgia and to continue supporting HOPE scholarships.

“(Gambling) addiction is a real addiction. It’s an addiction like drugs and alcohol,” Harbin said.