Sports gambling advocates in Georgia faced a setback on Thursday as the state Senate rejected a bill that would have allowed sports betting, including on horse races.
Lawmakers voted 37-19 against Senate Bill 57, which would have ordered the state lottery to set up sports betting and wagering on horse races, so long as winnings at the track were paid by the track itself or another company instead of by the betting pool, reports Associated Press. Georgia’s constitution explicitly bans pari-mutuel betting and casinos.
Lawmakers are set to revisit the issue before Monday. A similar bill – that excludes horse racing – is awaiting a vote in the Georgia House, and a proposal to let voters decide the question via referendum could still get a vote in the Senate.
Avoiding a constitutional amendment is an advantage as it requires a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of the General Assembly, then approval by a majority of voters statewide.
Republicans do not have a two-thirds majority in either legislative chamber, and some in the party refuse to support gambling on moral grounds, points out the cited source. A standard bill, like the one defeated in the Senate Thursday, needs only a simple majority of both chambers and the signature of Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who has previously signaled a willingness to legalize sports betting.
On a yearly basis, some Georgia lawmakers attempt to expand gambling. However, their efforts have never been fruitful since voters approved a state lottery in 1992. Nonetheless, a sense of inevitability is growing that Georgia will eventually approve some form of sports wagering.
Proponents said the state could reap new revenue from gambling that is already taking place illegally. Senator Brandon Beach stated there is an unregulated market that he intends to shut down through legalization.
Senate Bill 57 would have required its proceeds to be spent on college scholarships and prekindergarten, the constitutionally mandated programs the lottery already pays for.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Billy Hickman, who owns and races horses. He argued that horse racing would have a greater economic impact than other sports gambling because it would support farmers and horse breeders. “SB57 creates jobs. When you just bet on sports on your phone, no jobs are created,” he said.
He also cited a study conducted by Georgia Southern University last year that found sports betting could inject $1.1 billion annually into the state’s economy and create more than 8,500 jobs.
Both the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and Atlanta’s professional sports teams are backing the House bill to authorize sports betting.