ATLANTA — Backers of legalized sports betting in Georgia said they may have found a workaround to get it passed this session.
For years, many lawmakers have tried to make casinos legal in Georgia and tried to legalize wagers on horse racing. This year, lawmakers may focus mostly on sports gambling – wagers placed on pro and college sports.
Casino gambling and horse racing have failed in part because they would require an amendment to the state constitution.
Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority of the legislature. Then, voters statewide would have to approve it.
However, backers said they think sports gambling wouldn’t require a constitutional amendment and could become law with majority votes in the House and Senate plus the governor’s signature.
Because Georgia voters approved the state lottery a generation ago, backers believe they can attach sports betting to the Georgia Lottery, which funds the HOPE scholarship and Pre-K programs in the state.
"We need to tax it, we need to regulate it, and we need to run it through the lottery," State Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) said.
He added this would simplify the issue and make it easier to pass the legislature this year.
Gambling is heavily featured in advertising on sports programs. The gambling powerhouse Bally's acquired the name of the cable channel that shows Atlanta Braves games.
Sports gambling got some traction last year – the state senate passed it – but arguments from lobbyists like Mike Griffin against it have helped bottle it up.
"You can't even watch golf now without 'em wanting you to gamble," Mike Griffin of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board said in 2022. "It’s an industry that’s based off people losing."
However, Stephens said Georgians are gambling on sports anyway on international sites. He said the proceeds should stay in Georgia.
"Another way to look at it is you're sending your HOPE and Pre-K money to the Caribbean," he said.
Stephens said if sports book passed this session, lawsuits would likely challenge it – with judges perhaps deciding whether a shortcut around a constitutional amendment is legal.