ATLANTA — Sports betting would become legal in Georgia without the need to go to voters with a constitutional amendment under legislation introduced in the state Senate.
Senate Bill 415 would establish an app-based system allowing Georgians to bet on sports online. The legislation is modeled after laws in Tennessee and New Hampshire, states that offer online sports betting only because — like Georgia — they don’t have the brick-and-mortar casinos that typically house sports betting operations.
Georgians are already betting $1.5 billion illegally on sports every year without the state collecting any tax revenue from it, said Sen. Burt Jones, R-Jackson, the bill’s chief sponsor.
“We just want to regulate and control something that’s already going on,” he said.
Supporters of legalizing gambling have been pushing for years to bring casinos to Georgia and/or pari-mutuel betting on horse racing. Sports betting only became an option in 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal law prohibiting states from legalizing gambling on sports.
All efforts to legalize gambling in the Peach State have failed because they have involved constitutional amendments that require two-thirds majorities in the Georgia House and Senate, a level of support the measures’ sponsors have been unable to muster.
On the other hand, Jones’ sports betting bill would not change Georgia’s Constitution and, thus, would require simple majorities of the two legislative chambers of pass. Also, if it clears the Legislature, it would not be put before voters in a statewide referendum, as is the case with all constitutional amendments.
“l’d rather the citizens have a say on it,” Jones said. “But two-thirds of the Legislature has never allowed that to happen.”
Jones said he has received a legal opinion from legislative counsel that legalizing sports betting would not require a constitutional change because it would be operated essentially as a lottery game by a newly created state commission overseen by the Georgia Lottery Corp.
Those placing bets would have to be at least 21 years old and physically located in Georgia, a provision that would be enforced through geo-fencing technology.
Businesses licensed to offer sports betting online would pay a 10% tax on their adjusted gross incomes. The vast majority of the tax proceeds — 95% — would go to education, while the other 5% would be allocated to the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.
Bets could not be placed on college games.
The bill has been referred to the Senate Regulated Industries Committee.