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Georgia Ends Session Without Legalizing Sports Betting

Georgia Ends Session Without Legalizing Sports Betting article feature image
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Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Georgia Bulldog mascot, “Uga”

Georgia will not legalize sports betting this year.

The state’s 2022 legislative session ended Monday night without lawmakers passing legislation, pushing sports betting in the Peach State back at least another two years.

In a surprising move, a House committee last week resurrected two bills that had been dormant since passed by the Senate in 2021, amending them for a potential House vote in 2022. The move gave lawmakers the option of passing sports betting through the lottery (SB 142) or by putting legalization in hands of voters at the ballot box in November (SR 135).

The full House declined to take up either. Though lawmakers did pass SR 135, which was still labeled “sports betting” during the House broadcast, they did so after substituting its language for a timber tax break bill.

Revenue from a 20% tax on gaming revenue, along with money from $100,000 application fees and $1 million license fees, would have funded education under both bills.

The state hasn’t published a fiscal analysis, but the same tax rate net neighboring Tennessee $39 million last rear.

This Year Ends Like Last Year

And so 2022 will end exactly the way 2021 did: a last minute push on the exact same two bills gone awry.

There had been optimism that 2022 was finally the year Georgia got it done. Even House Speaker David Ralston, who has remained neutral on sports betting, said he saw a new appetite for it this year.

Part of the reason it’s had such a difficult run is Georgia’s constitution prohibits most forms of gaming, making it one of the most restrictive states in the country.

Lawmakers have tried to pass sports betting as a constitutional amendment, which requires a two-thirds vote as opposed to majority passage. The state’s historic opposition to gambling also makes it tougher to garner support in the legislature for new forms of gaming.

Historic Barriers to Sports Betting

Before Monday’s deadline, SB 142 was amended to legalize sports betting through the state lottery, one of the only forms of gaming allowed under the state constitution.

Passage would’ve required about 38 fewer votes than a constitutional amendment, though it’s uncertain whether it would withstand a legal challenge.

Georgia’s lack of gambling also means if it ever legalizes sports betting, it’s going to take a while to launch. This is because Georgia lacks the regulatory structure many other states have in place to oversee casinos and racetracks.

It took Tennessee, another state without casinos, nearly 18 months to launch after it legalized online sports betting.

With 2023 now Georgia’s next chance to pass a bill and the need to create a gaming commission, the earliest online sports betting apps could enter the state is late 2024.

If lawmakers opt for a ballot measure instead, it could take even longer.

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