More changes proposed to Georgia wagering bills; vote planned Wednesday

The committee Wednesday (27 March) will likely vote on whether or not to increase the tax rate in the package of bills from 20% to 25%, eliminate promotional deductions for operators and change where funding is directed as Georgia sports betting legislation continues to be a hot topic.

But multiple sources on the ground in Georgia aren’t hopeful that the online wagering package will pass through the General Assembly with just three legislative days remaining.

House sponsor Marcus Wiedower said he would provide committee members with updated language that includes the tax increase, promotional deduction change and a new breakdown of how the funds would be spent, before that meeting.

Earlier versions of the proposals have been approved by the Senate, and Senate sponsor Bill Cowsert said Monday that he just wants House approval so the bills can be sent to conference committee.

Georgia’s general assembly is set to adjourn Thursday (28 March), meaning lawmakers now have three days to push the bill through the full house, and send it back to the senate or call a conference committee.

How to spend the money the key issue

The discussed package of bills — SR 579, a constitutional amendment that would send the decision to legalise to the voters, and SB 386, the enabling legislation — would make online sports betting legal and the state’s professional sports teams would be in the mix. During a hearing last week on the constitutional amendment, it was clear that lawmakers had not reached consensus on what legal sports betting in Georgia will look like.

Monday’s hour-long discussion was heavily focused on how funds from online sports betting would be spent in Georgia. As the bill stands, tax dollars are earmarked for the state’s HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) merit-based scholarship program.

But committee members spent considerable time asking questions about whether or not funds could be directed to “fully fund” the state’s Pre-K program, school lunches could be included in the spend and if needs-based scholarships could be considered.

According to Cowsert, a Republican, the current text of the bill allows the “budget to decide” where exactly funds will be sent.

“This is the third version” of the bill, Cowsert said. “And there has been a different formula on where the money is spent.” Cowsert said that budgetary needs change each year. He also said that the bill can’t pass without support from the Democrats. A two-thirds majority is required to pass a constitutional amendment, and neither party has that majority.

The Republicans got a sports betting bill to the House floor in 2021 before Democrats pulled their support over a controversial voting-rights bill, and bills have not reached a chamber floor the last two sessions.

What about responsible gambling?

The committee allowed one member of the public to speak, Caroline York, a parent whose son is recovering from gambling addiction. She said her son got into trouble sports betting in North Carolina — where digital sports betting went live two weeks ago — and Colorado. York encouraged the committee to vote against the measures. In earlier hearings, the committee heard from religious groups encouraging the same.

This is what needs to be done to the Sports Betting legislation in the Georgia General Assembly! @GaPublicAffairs @NOGamblinginGA @SPGambling

— Michael R. Griffin (@mikegriffinsr) March 23, 2024

Cowsert said that funds for responsible and problem gambling could be available, but they are not specifically earmarked in the bill.

Among the other questions from committee members is whether or not daily fantasy sports would be regulated. A bill that would have put a framework around DFS — which now operates in a grey area in the state — died in the general assembly on 1 March. Since the first wagering hearing in the House this year, lawmakers have been suggesting that it be included in the sports betting bills, but as yet, it has not been added.

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