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One Georgia Bill To Legalize Sports Betting Fails In Senate

SB 57, a bill to legalize sports betting in Georgia without a constitutional amendment, failed to pass through the state Senate on Thursday. The vote on the bill’s passage received 37 “no” votes and 19 “yes” votes.

The moral integrity of mobile sports betting and the inclusion of horse racing language were focal points of opposition to the bill. It would have allowed legal betting on fixed-odds horse racing, which Sen. Billy Hickman believes would have created a thriving horse racing industry in the state.

“This will create over 8,500 jobs, according to an economic impact study, and have over a $1 billion economic impact” Hickman said. 

Hickman’s logic was that legal betting on horse racing would lead to an increase in farming and agricultural jobs, assuming the horse racing industry blossomed in coming years. Hickman spent just as much time, if not more, discussing horse racing Thursday as he did sports betting.

Several reasons for pushback

Hickman’s bill would have introduced both mobile and retail sports betting in Georgia as a state lottery game. The legislation allowed for up to 18 mobile sports betting licenses in the state. 

SB 57 planned to tax adjusted gross revenue at 20%. Estimates for how much tax revenue legal sports betting could generate for Georgia vary, with legislators predicting annual proceeds ranging from $50 million to $100 million. 

One senator, Marty Harbin, spoke Thursday about the negative impact of gambling, which he said outweighed the positive effects of tax money the state might receive. 

“It’s not a wise thing,” Harbin said. “You would never go to a financial planner who would say gambling is a good thing.”

Harbin and Hickman clearly disagreed about the drawbacks of legalized gambling. It appeared other members of the Senate were either on board with Harbin’s concerns or perhaps more interested in later voting for a different measure to legalize sports betting in Georgia.

It’s  also possible some legislators are against sports betting being legalized without using a constitutional amendment, while others likely prefer alternative measures that don’t include horse racing.

Other efforts remain

While SB 57 failed to pass through the Senate, there are a few other sports betting bills still active.

SB 172 and SR 140 would legalize sports betting in Georgia through a constitutional amendment. The likelihood of that legislative effort passing seems low, however, given the need to have a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and House to send the question of sports betting legalization to voters in 2024.

HR 210 would also use a constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting, but that effort also plans to legalize horse racing and casino gambling. It’s unlikely the Georgia legislature has an appetite for that much expanded gambling in 2023, especially after the Senate rejected SB 57. 

That leaves HB 380 as the bill with arguably the best chance to legalize sports betting in Georgia in the immediate future. HB 380 doesn’t require a constitutional amendment, and the absence of horse racing language in the bill could be beneficial for its chances of moving forward.

The bill, which would allow only mobile sports betting, is expected to be discussed on the House floor in the coming days. HB 380 would authorize up to 16 mobile sports betting operators, and it would tax adjusted gross revenue at 25%. 

HB 380 needs to pass out of the House before Tuesday to have a chance of becoming law in 2023.