Georgia Senate Passes Bill 386 – A Step Toward Legalizing Sports Gambling in the State

February 3, 2024 | Legislature

But with a state constitutional amendment added 

ATLANTA, Georgia (February 1, 2024) — The passage of Senate Bill 386 by Georgia senators represents a step toward legalizing sports gambling in the state, but the inclusion of a requirement for a state constitutional amendment has added complexity to the process.

The Senate voted 35-15 to pass the bill, sending it to the House for further consideration. However, the decision to attach the constitutional amendment requirement, which needs support from at least 38 senators, introduces uncertainty regarding the ultimate passage of the legislation.

The disagreement among lawmakers reflects a broader debate on the expansion of legal gambling in Georgia. While many support the idea, there are differing opinions on the specific forms of gambling and the legal methods through which they should be implemented. Similar disagreements have thwarted gambling-related bills in previous years.

Currently, 38 states nationwide allow sports betting, with variations in the types of bets allowed (in-person or electronic) and regulations. In Georgia, supporters of passing the bill without a constitutional amendment argue that sports betting can be authorized under the existing Georgia Lottery, which was approved by voters in 1992 through a constitutional amendment. This approach would legally allocate proceeds to prekindergarten classes and HOPE Scholarships.

Proponents of the bill, including Sen. Clint Dixon, argue that sports betting could generate significant state tax revenue—potentially exceeding $100 million annually—and provide much-needed funding for prekindergarten classes and HOPE Scholarships. Dixon’s bill also proposes a gradual spend-down of a substantial portion of the Georgia Lottery’s $2 billion reserves.

However, there are differing views on the constitutional amendment. Some lawmakers support it to allow the redirection of sports gambling proceeds to other purposes, such as need-based scholarships. Democrats, in particular, advocate for need-based scholarships and have historically withheld votes to negotiate on other issues.

The debate also involves those who believe sports betting was not originally intended to be included in the 1992 lottery referendum, prompting calls for a constitutional amendment to clarify the matter. Sen. Bill Cowsert emphasizes the potential for legal challenges without a constitutional amendment and cautions against premature investments in the industry.

Efforts to pass a constitutional amendment in the past fell short, with 30 votes in favor, falling below the required 38. Another Senate committee previously passed a bill requiring a constitutional amendment, but there has been no further progress.

The bill that passed Thursday proposes a tax rate of 20% on proceeds after paying prizes to gamblers. Licensing would involve granting one directly to the Georgia Lottery and eight to professional sports entities in Georgia, including teams like the Atlanta Braves, Falcons, Hawks, and Dream, as well as NASCAR’s Atlanta Motor Speedway and golf’s Augusta National and PGA. Seven additional licenses without ties to pro sports teams would be distributed by the lottery with associated fees.

SOURCE: LI Contributor.

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