Georgia Lawmakers Fail to Legalize Sports Betting

Sports bettors and industry analysts have had Georgia on their mind for quite some time, but alas, the latest legalization efforts have fallen through once again.

Georgia Lawmakers Fail to Legalize Sports Betting

In 2020, Georgia lawmakers nearly legalized a comprehensive, competitive digital sports betting law before the Democrats pulled their support over the state’s controversial voting rights issue. Four years later, Georgia lawmakers again failed to legalize, this time—at least on the face of it—because they could not agree on how to spend wagering proceeds.

A package of sports betting bills made their way through the Senate early in the session, before moving, one by one, to the House in February.

Assigned to the House Higher Education Committee, the bills didn’t get out of that committee until March 28, the final day of the legislative session. Prior to that the committee had dealt with the bills in fits and starts— hearings, public testimony, canceled meetings—before it moved for an amended constitutional amendment that would give the voters the decision of whether or not to legalize in November.

A two-thirds majority is needed to pass a constitutional amendment and while the Republicans are the majority, they don’t have a two-thirds majority, meaning support for the constitutional amendment must be bi-partisan. And when Georgia’s session ended close to midnight, sports betting was still not legal.

Big PG/RG funding was added to the bill

The constitutional amendment, SR 579, had been changed to include the biggest earmark in the U.S. for problem and responsible gaming—up to $22.5 million per year. Bill sponsor Senator Bill Cowsert, a Republican, brought the amendment to add the PG/RG funding and the Higher Education Committee approved it on the morning of March 28.

The amendment also directed funds to the state’s merit-based HOPE Scholarships and Pre-K funding, but when the bill got to the House, Pre-K was the priority, and Democrats were already concerned.

Those were among changes to the package of bills that would have required it to be sent back to the Senate or a conference committee before final approval. The House also increased the proposed tax rate on legal sports betting from 20 percent to 25 percent.

Democratic delegate Sam Park, who is also the minority whip, also floated an amendment about funding—his would have directed 5 percent of tax dollars to problem and responsible gaming initiatives, beefed up funds headed toward Pre-K programs and included need-based scholarships. The Higher Education Committee did not vote on the amendment, which sources say Park had planned to reintroduce on the House floor.

But Park never had the chance. SR 579 and SB 386 met resistance in the Rules Committee, the last committee a bill must pass through before getting to the House floor. The committee met at least three times March 28, and did agree in its first meeting to include the wagering package on its list of legislation to consider, but never brought it for a vote.

All eyes now on Minnesota

Sources say the Republicans did not have the votes, and that lawmakers couldn’t find the sweet spot in how to spend the funding. The end result is that Georgia, which many considered the best hope for legalization in 2024, remains one of a dozen states yet to legalize.

Since that near miss in 2020, Georgia’s two biggest neighbors—Florida and Tennessee—have launched statewide digital sports betting, as have at least 15 other states. The most recent launch was in North Carolina, where early indicators suggest that the market will be strong.

In the first week, bettors wagered $198.1 million and the state got $7.7 million in tax dollars on an 18 percent tax rate. Georgia’s population is comparable, and like North Carolina, it has a vibrant sports culture.

With Georgia done, all eyes now turn to Minnesota, where legal sports betting bills are moving through the House and Senate. Representative Zack Stephenson has brokered a deal there with the charitable gaming sector that begins to lay the groundwork for a consensus among stakeholders.

But a key issue—whether or not the state’s two horse racetracks should get a piece of the sports betting pie—remains unresolved, and the state’s tribes won’t support a bill that encroaches on their exclusivity.

Articles by Author: Jill Dorson

Jill Dorson has covered everything from steeplechase to the NFL and then some during a more than 30-year career in sports journalism. The highlight of her career was covering Oakland Raiders during the Charles Woodson/Jon Gruden era, including the infamous “Snow Bowl” and the Raiders’ 2003 trip to Super Bowl XXXVII. Her specialty these days is covering sports betting legislation across the country. You can reach Jill at