An Online-Only Sports Betting Bill Might Represent Georgia’s Best Chance Yet at Gambling Expansion

Georgia now has two sports betting bills active for the 2024 legislative session, the latest of which differs substantially from previous efforts. Sen. Clint Dixon’s bill is unique as it does not require a constitutional amendment and would be tied to the state’s lottery. Another critical difference between SB 386 and previous attempts is that it has bipartisan support. Key details of the legislation include:

  • Online-only sports betting with no retail outlets.
  • There will be up to 16 sportsbooks. Eight licenses will go to professional sports teams and venues, seven will be standalone, and one will go to the Georgia Lottery.
  • Tax rate of 15%.
  • Licensees will pay an initial license fee of $100,000 and an annual renewal fee of $1 million.

As the bill is tied to the Lottery, its sponsors plan for tax revenue collected from sports betting to go to the same recipients: Pre-K education and HOPE scholarships.

Last year, House Speaker Jon Burns created a working group that Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones led to examine how to improve Pre-K education. The group’s recommendations were estimated to cost around $100 million.

Supporters of the bill estimate that sports betting revenue will cover that need. Jen Ryan, a spokeswoman for the Sports Betting Alliance, a coalition of legal US sports betting providers, told PlayUSA that sports betting and the Lottery will easily bring $140 million annually to Georgia Pre-K.

PlayUSA and Bonus are part of the Catena Media network.

More Support and an Easier Bar to Meet

Georgia is no stranger to sports betting efforts. The 2024 legislative session will be the sixth year in a row with such an attempt. However, SB 386 might have the best chance yet. That’s because both sides of the aisle support it, and the voting threshold will be lower than with previous bills. Constitutional amendments in Georgia require a two-thirds majority in both halves of the legislature, followed by a referendum. This bill would require only simple majorities.

The bill has an impressive 12 sponsors, including seven Republicans. One of these is Sen. Brandon Beach, who was also planning on introducing a gambling bill. More importantly, Beach is the co-chair of the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee, the first hurdle for the bill.

Other key sponsors include Sen. Bo Hatchett, who has close ties to Gov. Brian Kemp, and Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler. Some reports suggest that Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who leads the Senate, also supports the bill. Having Republican support is critical as that party dominates the House of Representatives.

The bill also has the backing of Atlanta sports teams, including the Falcons and Braves, and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

Despite having a lot of momentum behind it, SB 386 also faces significant opposition. As with any gambling bill, there are concerns about gambling addiction. Also, some conservative opponents claim gambling expansion is immoral and will lead to increased crime.

Another concern specific to this bill is that some Georgia lawmakers oppose the idea of attempting to pass sports betting without a referendum. Some see a legal challenge as likely.

That said, former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton doesn’t share these concerns. In an opinion he wrote last year, Melton said that sports betting doesn’t need a constitutional amendment if tied to the Lottery, which voters already approved in 1992.

iLottery’s Success in GA Could Help Convince Opposers

Tying sports betting to the Lottery is a way to circumvent a constitutional amendment and avoid going to voters. But it could also help sway holdouts in that Georgia’s Lottery has already found online success.

Georgia was just the second state to create an online lottery, in 2012, and the first to include eInstants, known in the state as Diggi games. The market for these has been growing exponentially. In 2015, online sales were still only about $1 million but have since grown to $782.4 million in the most recent fiscal year. That phenomenal growth rate isn’t slowing down, with that fiscal year 2023 revenue representing a 75.7% increase from 2022.

From the start of online sales, the Georgia Lottery implemented safeguards to ensure players’ safety. That included mandatory account registration; each player’s banking information must match their name. Also, players must provide their address and Social Security number. Furthermore, the Lottery set limits on activity or playing time.

Georgia lawmakers’ apparent affinity for the Lottery and for online gambling raises exciting possibilities for the future, especially if Sen. Dixon’s sports betting bill passes. Typically, the assumption is that online casino games require an existing retail casino industry. However, if the Georgia Lottery comes to offer sports betting and online instants—which already bear some resemblance to slots—it perhaps isn’t such a stretch to think a full array of online gambling options could come in time.

About the Author

Chav Vasilev

Chav Vasilev

After years of managing fast-casual restaurants, Chav turned his passion for sports and occasional slot wins into a career as an iGaming writer. Sharing his time between Europe and the US, he has been exposed to betting and gambling for years and has closely followed the growth in the US. Chav is a proponent of playing responsibly and playing only at legal online sites. When not writing, you will find him watching and betting on sports, especially soccer, or trying to land the next big bonus on a slot.
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