Georgia's House of Representatives’ Economic Development & Tourism Committee voted 14-6 Tuesday in favor of a constitutional amendment asking voters whether to legalize sports betting in the state.
The state Senate passed the measure earlier this month by a margin of 41-10, three votes more than the two-thirds majority needed for constitutional amendments.
Supporters of legalizing sports betting argue 2.3 million Georgians already are betting illegally on sports each year. “We’re not creating something new,” Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, the House committee’s chairman, said following Tuesday’s vote, as reported by Albany Herald. “If we make it legal, we’ll get revenue out of it.”
If the constitutional change passes the General Assembly and voters ratify it next year, 20% of the net proceeds from online sports betting would go to the state, up from 16% in the version of the legislation passed by the Senate. Of that amount, 40.5% would go to Georgia’s HOPE Scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs and 20.5% would be set aside for needs-based scholarships. The Senate had added a needs-based component to the mix to benefit low-income Georgians in order to gain votes from minority Democrats.
Another 12.5% of the proceeds would be used to expand broadband deployment in rural Georgia, while 12.5% would be earmarked for mental health services. Three percent would go to help the Georgia Sports Commission attract major sporting events to the state.
Stephens said those percentages are locked into the constitutional amendment, so they could never be changed once voters approve it. “That was important to the minority caucus,” he said.
Stephens said the committee also agreed to remove a provision in the legislation that would have allowed betting on college sports. The version the panel passed Tuesday would limit betting to pro teams.
The committee also agreed to scrap a proposal to establish kiosks at sports venues for betting and limit betting instead to online devices. It also approved a separate “enabling” bill outlining how sports betting would operate in Georgia. The bill would put sports betting under the jurisdiction of the Georgia Lottery Corp. Companies interested in running sportsbooks would pay a nonrefundable application fee, and those selected would pay annual license fees.
Both measures now head to the House Rules Committee, which could schedule floor votes as early as Thursday.