Supporters say bill would be easier to pass without constitutional amendments
ATLANTA — Supporters of legalized sports betting in Georgia say they may have found a workaround to get it passed this session.
Casino gambling and horse racing failed in part because they required changes to state constitutions.
Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority in the legislature. Then, voters across the state will have to approve it.
Supporters, however, say they don’t think sports betting needs a constitutional amendment and can become law with a majority in the House and Senate and the governor’s signature.
Because Georgia voters approved the state lottery a generation ago, supporters believe they can attach sports betting to the Georgia Lottery, which funds the state’s HOPE scholarship and Pre-K programs.
“We need to tax it, we need to regulate it, we need to run it through a lottery,” said state Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah).
That would simplify matters and make it easier to pass the legislature this year, he added.
Gambling features heavily in advertising on sports programming. Gambling giant Bally’s gets the name of the cable channel that airs Atlanta Braves games.
Sports betting gained some traction last year — the state Senate passed it — but arguments against it by lobbyists like Mike Griffin helped dampen it.
“You can’t even watch golf right now if they don’t want you to gamble. It’s an industry based on people losing,” Mike Griffin of the Georgia Baptist Missions Council said in 2022.
However, Georgians are betting on sports on international sites anyway, Stephens said. 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.
If the sports book passes this session, the lawsuits could challenge it — a judge could decide whether a shortcut to circumvent the constitutional amendment is legal, Stephens said.