Georgia Sports Betting Initiatives Need More Organization to Succeed in the Future

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Sep 5, 2023 12:00 AM
Why do Georgia sports betting measures continue to fail?

Well, it's that time of year again: The Georgia sports betting debate is about to be reignited. 

To some, this might be odd timing. The state legislature doesn't meet for months. But the interest level surrounding sports betting in Georgia always goes up around late August and early September. After all, that’s when betting on college football and betting on the NFL reaches an aggressive crescendo. And with that increase comes renewed frustration. Football fans invariably want to know why Georgia sports betting has not been legalized yet and whether that might change anytime in the near future. 

This is also about the time when sports gambling supporters note how much revenue the state is costing themselves. NFL betting is a cash cow for just about every state, but college football betting is especially lucrative for Georgia. The state has three powerhouse programs at the Division I level: Georgia State, the University of Georgia and Clemson University, the latter two of which both rank inside the top 10 of the Associated Press’ top 25 rankings. 

That popularity naturally leads to an uptick in attempts to bet with the best online sportsbooks in the United States. It hasn’t been released yet, but there will inevitably be geotracking data that shows more Georgia residents than usual tried placing bets with mobile wagering operators heading into the first couple weeks of the college football and NFL regular seasons. And from there, the same old question will pop back up all over again: Why does sports betting in Georgia remain illegal? Equally important: Has the state actually made as much progress on the matter as it sometimes seems?

Progress on Georgia Sports Betting has Actually been Pretty Limited

That second question, to us, is far more compelling than the first. New hope for Georgia sports betting is peddled each and every year. That, in turn, gives off the appearance of headway. And yet, the latest sports betting measures are never successful. What gives?

In reality, the attempts to legalize Georgia sports betting have not been nearly organized enough. Too often, a proposal is slapped on as an addition to another. And most of the time, the issue isn’t necessarily approached until the legislative sessions are almost over. As the Associated Press recently explained about this year’s “push” to legalize Georgia sports betting: 

The Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee amended House Bill 237 to include the legalization of online betting by early 2024 at the latest, and do so without asking voters to amend the state constitution. The move to piggyback sports betting on an earlier bill came late in the session, after legalization proposals in both the House and Senate failed to pass before the deadline to advance to the opposite chamber. The newly amended bill next went to the Senate for its consideration. If senators approved it, the House would then have to agree to the plan. [It wasn’t successful.]

Some Georgia lawmakers typically attempt to expand gambling every year, but none of the efforts have succeeded since voters approved a state lottery in 1992. Momentum had appeared to be building behind this year’s effort, after Republican Governor Brian Kemp voiced openness to signing a bill. A total of 33 states and the District of Columbia now offer at least some form of sports wagering. But earlier efforts to assemble a winning coalition have failed. The Senate this year voted down one plan that would have legalized betting on sports including horse races, and another plan that included a constitutional amendment. A House plan by Atlanta’s pro sports teams never came to a vote before the full House.

Attaching a sports betting clause to HB 237 earlier this year was the pinnacle of poor planning. The sponsors of HB 237, which originally had to do with soap box derby racing, were actually caught by surprise at the request. That’s…not great. At the very least, it shows how last-minute the arguments would be. That’s not a recipe for a successful dialogue anywhere. It’s especially tenuous in a state like Georgia, which has historically skewed conservative and remains divided on plenty of partisan issues. Given how important it is for the state to sway certain GOP members on the matter of sports betting, there needs to be much more time allotted for discussion.

It’s Also Time for Georgia to Ditch Attempts to Legalize Sports Betting Without a Constitutional Amendment

For Georgia sports betting to have a chance this year, officials probably also need to junk any hopes of legalization without a constitution amendment. 

Indeed, that is technically the easier path to legal online sports betting. It ensures any proposal won’t need to pass through the state’s voters. But the voters actually aren’t the problem. While some have wondered whether support for sports betting in Georgia is on the decline, numerous polls over the past few years have shown that most residents are okay with some form of legal gambling.

Convincing enough Republican senators to green light sports betting is the real challenge. That’s going to be an obstacle no matter what course the state takes to legalize sports gambling. And while eschewing a constitution amendment may be quicker in the end, it also won’t feature nearly as much input from Georgia’s tribal operators. That’s yet another downside of traveling down such a path. Tribes have the clout to influence policymakers because of how much revenue they already generate for the state. If they feel like their gaming compact is somehow being circumvented, there’s no chance the state successfully legalized sports betting. 

This is all to say, Georgia has quite a bit of work to do. They have been portrayed as the next big market to make the sports gambling transition, ahead of both California and Texas. Truthfully, though, we’re not sure they’ve made enough progress to warrant such optimism. We’ll know more at the next round of legislative sessions.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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