Constitutional arguments and state politics are throwing the chances of legalizing sports betting in Georgia this year into doubt.
HB 86 is in a political stalemate with House Democrats withholding support of the bill because of Republican efforts to reduce access to voting, according to the Associated Press.
The Democrats might be the minority party but those votes become crucial when Republicans are split on issues, like GA sports betting. That strategy to withhold support on legislation officially began with HB 86, which had its expected vote postponed.
“It’s happening,” Rep. Carl Gilliard told AP of the Democratic strategy. “We’ve got some things to talk about, and I told Chairman Stephens that.”
Georgia sports betting bill, resolution pass committee
The Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities supports legal sports betting. Its chairman isn’t convinced it has a chance to pass this year, though.
SB 142 and SR 135 both received do-pass recommendations from the committee. Chairman Bill Cowsert co-sponsored SR 135, which would put sports betting on the 2022 ballot, with SB 142 lead sponsor Sen. Jeff Mullis.
That’s because Cowsert isn’t confident that legalizing sports betting as a lottery game would hold up to legal challenges. He questioned the constitutionality of that method at a committee meeting last week.
Georgia passed a constitutional amendment to legalize its Lottery in 1992. At the time, many people defined lottery games as draw games and scratch games, he said.
“I have come to the conclusion – and I think that’s supported certainly by our legislative council’s office and by many of the folks that have presented things to us – that’s a real stretch to call sports betting a lottery game, just by our definition,” Cowsert added. “… We’re on pretty thin ice here to try to convince a court that just because we say sports betting is a lottery game, the courts are going to believe that.”
SB 142 financials amended
There were multiple changes to SB 142 that lower upfront cash but raise taxes. Cowsert introduced the amendments saying he worked closely with Mullis on them.
The biggest change was taxing sports betting revenue at 16%, up from 10% originally. That’s still lower than the 20% in HB 86 after its increase from 14% earlier this week.
Cowsert also cut the application fee to $10,000 and the annual license fee to $100,000. That’s down from $50,000 and $900,000, respectively. The initial fees, which remain in the House bill, were too high to encourage local business involvement, he argued.
Another amendment appears to be based on confusing a Tennessee daily fantasy sports law for a sports betting law and would likely be removed should SB 142 get real attention this year.
Cowsert said he “plagiarized” Tennessee by amending the bill to include a deposit limit of $2,500 every 30 days. That limit is only found in the state’s fantasy sports rules and regulations.
Cowsert: Don’t approve sports betting for cash
Cowsert was pretty frank when asked about how much cash would be left for Lottery-funded scholarships after the additional costs incurred by the lottery to run sports betting.
“Well, the cold reality is if you are voting for sports betting to raise significant funds for the state of Georgia, it’s probably you’re going to be a no vote,” Cowsert said.
He called the “best-case scenario” between $25 million to $50 million in annual tax revenue, according to advocates. He also quickly noted that isn’t “chump change.”