Georgia Senate panel passes constitutional amendment bill to allow sports betting

The bill and constitutional amendment, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Mullis, now head to the Senate Rules Committee to schedule votes on the Senate floor. Sportsbooks would pay a 16% tax on their income to the state, and the lottery board would license at least six operators.

Georgia Senate panel passed Thursday a revised proposal to legalize online sports betting in the state while pairing it with a proposed constitutional amendment that some have argued is an unnecessary companion.

The bill would allow those older than 21 and who are present within the state’s boundaries to place bets on professional and collegiate games, so long as the college team wagered on does not hail from Georgia.

“Regardless of where the event takes place and whether it’s in the regular season or during the playoffs, tournament, Final Four, you can’t bet on UGA and you can’t bet on your Mercer Bears down there in Macon and you can’t bet on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets,” said Sen. Bill Cowsert, an Athens Republican, as reported by Georgia Recorder.

The bill and constitutional amendment, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Mullis, who chairs the powerful Senate Rules Committee, were passed out of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee after a vote on a similar bill was delayed in the House, which aimed at legalizing sports betting without changing the state Constitution. The delay raised doubt that the proposal had the votes needed to pass that chamber.

A constitutional amendment would need even more votes – two-thirds support of the Senate and House – to make it onto ballots for voters to decide. But Cowsert, who is also an attorney, argued that he thinks it is a stretch to try to provide legal cover to sports betting in Georgia by calling it a lottery game. Cowsert said he thinks the new Senate version may win over reluctant lawmakers. The bill allows betting proceeds to go toward purposes beyond the HOPE scholarship and pre-K education.

Under the proposal that passed Thursday, the state could also put the revenue towards needs-based scholarships, grants or loans; rural health care services and health care insurance coverage; or the deployment of broadband services to unserved areas. “I think this will probably generate much broader support for this initiative if we do it this way,” Cowsert said.

Besides the constitutional change, the committee also approved an “enabling” bill with details on how sports betting would be conducted in Georgia. Under the bill, sportsbooks would pay a 16% tax on their income to the state. The lottery board would license at least six companies such as FanDuel and DraftKings to operate online sportsbooks in Georgia. The companies would pay an application fee of $10,000 and annual operating fees of $100,000.

The constitutional amendment and enabling bill now head to the Senate Rules Committee to schedule votes on the Senate floor.

Proponents have argued that more than 2 million people are already placing bets on sports in Georgia, causing the state to miss out on revenue. “Right now, it’s going to the bookie, but when we pass this, it will be going to the lottery and broadband and rural health care,” Mullis said.

However, sports betting is only expected to generate about $25 million to $50 million for the state as a best-case scenario, Cowsert said. Mullis said he expects the state’s take to run higher.