New Georgia Sports Betting Bill Aims to Legalize Gambling without Statewide Vote

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Feb 14, 2023 07:00 PM
New Georgia Sports Betting Bill Aims to Legalize Gambling without Statewide Vote

Could you actually receive the green light to bet on sports in Georgia before the end of 2023? If a pair of Georgia sports betting bills are pushed through, you just might.

Typically, this wouldn't be considered a legitimate possibility. Georgia can approve the framework of sports betting laws during the current legislative meetings, but signing bills into laws usually requires a constitutional amendment. And any change of that magnitude must be put to a state-wide vote. The next major election takes place in November 2024, which is considered the earliest that sports betting in Georgia could be legalized.

However, there are currently two Georgia sports betting bills on the table that aim to circumvent this rule and legalize gambling without a statewide vote. And given how close Georgia has seemingly come to approving legal sports betting in the past, there appears to be a real chance that one of the newest proposals gets the stamp of approval.

Georgia Sports Betting Bills Would Not Require a Constitutional Amendment

The introduction of one Georgia sports betting bill that doesn't require a constitutional amendment wasn't deemed much of a shock. But two? That's nothing short of a surprise. And yet, while both initiatives are taking the same approach, they have noticeably different endgames. Jeff Amy from Fox 5 in Georgia outlined the details of both proposals:

The House and Senate are taking different approaches, with Watkinsville Republican Rep. Marcus on Monday introducing House Bill 380, which would allow sports betting only. Meanwhile, a Senate committee on Tuesday held a hearing on Senate Bill 57, which would explicitly include horse racing as part of sports gambling. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Billy Hickman, a Statesboro Republican, would also authorize three horse racing tracks with betting statewide...Both bills claim their plans would be legal under the state constitution because they would not violate a bar on casinos or pari-mutuel betting."

This "pari-mutuel betting" language is pivotal to the framework of both bills. This is a form of gambling in which bettors are effectively wagering against each other, and it's the most popular type of transaction for horse racing specifically. Under Senate Bill 57 (SB 57), though, bettors would only be wagering against the house—the sportsbooks, race track or company processing the transaction. 

Though the House bill (HB 380) doesn't seek to include horse racing under its umbrella, the two proposals are otherwise very similar. They would each legalize online sports betting throughout Georgia. Each also allows for up to 16 sports betting licenses that can be dispersed among pro sports teams and various betting "firms" such as DraftKings, FanDuel and others. SB 57, however, would not allow sports betting operators to write off promotional programs and gambling bonuses from their taxes. Naturally, everyone from pro sports teams to all the highly reviewed online sportsbooks have thrown their support behind HB 380, since that includes what's become a standard tax exemption for "free bets."

Regardless, both bills maintain the absence of pari-mutuel betting or physical sports betting in casinos eradicates the need for a statewide vote. But is that entirely accurate?

Georgia Sports Betting Bills are Toeing a Fine Line of Legality

A handful of legal experts have come out and said the newest Georgia sports betting bills are, in fact, capable of circumventing the need for constitutional amendments. This includes former state Supreme Court Justice Harold Melton, who wrote an opinion on the matter for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. "Based on my review of the relevant law, the original public meanings of applicable terms and the historical context of those terms, it is my opinion that sports betting can be legalized as a state-run lottery for educational purposes solely through legislative action," he said.

Nevertheless, many others believe the state would be opening themselves up to lawsuits. They most frequently point to the fate of sports betting in Florida. The state legalized sports betting while agreeing to an exclusive gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe back in 2021. They were later sued for violating constitutional law, and after a judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, the gaming compact was repealed and has been tied up in litigation ever since.

Granted, Georgia is flirting with a different business model. They are not tying their sports betting infrastructure to one tribe. They plan to open up the enterprise. Florida also only legalized in-person betting. Georgia would be allowing residents to place wagers online. But allowing retail sportsbooks to operate in state lines without also licensing casinos could prompt legal action from the casinos themselves. That's why the constitutional amendment is seen as the preferred route. It takes longer, but prospective plaintiffs won't have a leg to stand on if Georgia voters approve of the terms.

The Timeline for Sports Betting in Georgia

Given all that we know, we would bet against Georgia sports betting going live in 2023. The risk of legalizing online wagering without a constitutional amendment is too great. The entire law could wind up being repealed, which would set back the Georgia sports betting timeline by years, much like we've seen in Florida.

In reality, this means very little has changed. Until the start of 2023, Georgia was never considered especially likely to legalize sports betting without a constitutional amendment. The expectation was always that a new bill would work its way through the House and Senate and then end up on the 2024 ballot. At that point, it would be up to the voters.

Barring any drastic upticks in support of circumventing constitutional law, this is how we should expect the future of Georgia sports betting to play out: with its fate at the mercy of statewide vote in 2024.

Take a look at this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can decide which one works best for all of your sports betting needs: 

Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

Online Sports Betting may receive compensation if you sign up through our links. Rest assured, we avoid biases and provide honest opinions on sportsbooks. Read more here.