The Georgia Senate voted down a bill 37-19 March 2 that would have legalized wagering on horse races and sports betting, according to an Associated Press report.
State legislators in the Georgia House of Representatives will consider March 6 another bill that would allow sports betting but excludes wagering on horse racing. A separate proposal to put the question of allowing sports betting and pari-mutuel wagering before voters in a constitutional referendum could still get a vote by the Senate. The state’s constitution specifically bans pari-mutuel wagering and casinos.
Going the route of amending the state constitution is a higher hurdle to clear because it requires a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of the General Assembly and then must be approved by a majority of voters. With a standard bill, like the one defeated in the Senate, only a simple majority from both chambers is required, along with the signature of Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who has indicated he is willing to legalize sports betting, according to AP.
The Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Billy Hickman, a Statesboro Republican who is a Thoroughbred owner/breeder, has been arguing that horse racing would have a greater economic impact than other sports gambling because it would support farmers and horse breeders. An economic impact study done by Georgia Southern University estimated that benefit to be the creation of a $1.28 billion industry supporting around 8,500 jobs.
The only legal gambling in Georgia is the state lottery, which has generated around $1.5 billion in annual revenue for pre-kindergarten programs and college scholarships since 1992. With sports betting taking place in 33 states (and legalized but not yet operational in three others), several Georgia lawmakers have said they believe it is inevitable that Georgia will eventually approve some form of sports betting.
Proponents of sports betting said Georgia could see new revenue from gambling that’s already taking place illegally.
“Right now we have unregulated sports betting that’s done underground with bookies, and I would argue that’s more harmful to people,” state Sen. Brandon Beach, an Alpharetta Republican, told AP.
AP reported that former state Supreme Court Justice Harold Melton wrote an opinion for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce earlier this year that sports betting could be authorized without amending the state constitution. The Chamber of Commerce and Atlanta’s professional sports teams support the House bill allowing sports betting.