Sports Betting On My Mind? Looks Like It — Again — In Georgia

Seven months after Democrats torpedoed an expansion of gaming in Georgia in retaliation for a Republican bill targeting voting rights, lawmakers are saying they’ll try again in 2022.

The state’s Senate in March passed a measure that would have put the question of legal sports betting to voters, but the House failed to act on it by a session deadline. That inaction was, in some ways, only symbolic: If lawmakers send the question to voters, it would wait until the November 2022 ballot regardless of whether 2021 or 2022 is the year in which the legislature acts.

Like lawmakers in many other states, the Georgia General Assembly is now tasked with redistricting, but sports betting proponents are already gearing up for another go-round on wagering in 2022, according to the Capitol Beat News Service. The General Assembly goes into session on Jan. 10, 2022, and legislators can begin pre-filing bills as early as Nov. 15.

“It looks more encouraging than ever,” Rep. Ron Stephens, a sports betting champion, told Capitol Beat.

Truth be told, after several years of wrangling and compromise, Georgia’s General Assembly should be well positioned to come to consensus on legal sports betting. This year, lawmakers agreed on a statewide mobile option with tax rates that are favorable to operators. The House and the Senate appeared to have agreed that the issue must go to the voters as a constitutional amendment. And lawmakers in both chambers seemed set on earmarking revenue for education, particularly to funding the state’s HOPE scholarship program.

Key issue: Allow college wagering or not?

In terms of the details of future sports betting, Georgia lawmakers were last quibbling over whether to allow betting on any college sports or to carve out just Georgia college sports. A House bill would have banned bets on any college sports while the Senate bill would have allowed for college betting in general, but not on Georgia college teams.

Operators argue that any ban leaves room for the black market to thrive. Considering that Georgia is currently ranked No. 1 in the AP college football poll, made it to the national championship as recently as 2017, and hasn’t finished worse than third in the SEC’s Eastern Conference since 1996, there are surely plenty of people in the Peach State who want the option to bet on the Bulldogs.

One thing that seems clear in Georgia is support for wagering, and possibly for other expansions of gaming. While the state has no legal gaming, a 2020 survey suggested that voters do have an appetite for it, and a coalition of professional sports teams has been pushing since 2019 not just for legalization but for a piece of the pie. The Georgia Professional Sports Integrity Alliance, which is made up of the NFL Falcons, Major League Baseball Braves, NBA Hawks, and MLS Atlanta United, says on its website that it supports  highly regulated, fairly taxed, statewide mobile sports betting.

While Georgia has failed to legalize sports betting in the last few years, two of its border states have. Tennessee lawmakers became the first in the nation to legalize mobile-only wagering on July 1, 2019, and operators there went live on Nov. 1, 2020. The state of Florida and the Seminole Tribe this year came to an agreement on an expansion of gaming that includes statewide mobile wagering. The new law is facing legal challenges, but the Seminoles have been pointing to a go-live date later this fall.

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