Needs widespread support

Lawmakers in Georgia are giving sports betting legalization yet another shot. Bills have been put forth every year since the US Supreme Court struck down PASPA in 2018, allowing states to legalize sports betting, but every year, the bills fall short.

This week, yet another bill to legalize sports betting – a bipartisan one at that – was introduced and made it through the Senate Regulated Industries Committee by an 8-4 vote. Senate Bill 172 now moves on to the full Senate for further debate.

The biggest hurdle for the bill is how widespread the support for it will have to be because it would amend the state constitution. As such, it would require a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Georgia legislature and then gain a majority of Georgia voters on the November ballot.

In Georgia, whether or not gambling expansion requires a constitutional amendment is also up for debate. Some, like SB 172 primary author Bill Cowsert (who is also the chair of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee), believe that a constitutional amendment is necessary. Among the people in that faction include those who see the law as cloudy enough that the best course of action is to go for the constitutional amendment to remove all doubt.

“I don’t see anything to fear from a constitutional amendment,” Cowsert told Fox 5 Atlanta. “I think if you make a policy change like this, you ought to have the buy-in of both parties and the citizens on board to do that, so I embrace that.”

Others believe that sports betting can be folded into the Georgia Lottery and thus can be legalized with just a standard bill vote in the legislature.

Could be more than sports betting

Cowsert told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “at least” three senators will propose resolutions to legalize different forms of gambling. The three most bandied about over the years have been sports betting, horse racing, and casino gambling.

Cowsert attempted to go the same route last year and came fairly close, garnering 30 votes in the state Senate. Unfortunately, 38 votes were needed.

There have been attempts to legalize online poker, but they went nowhere and there has been no talk, at least publicly, of trying to include the pastime this go-around. Georgia would be an extremely attractive market for any sort of online gambling, as it is the eighth-most populous state in the country.

Georgia is one of the few states that has not legalized sports betting; Vermont is about to become the 38th state to do so.

Tax dollars from legalized gambling would primarily go toward funding pre-K programs and the overwhelmingly popular HOPE Scholarship program.

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