Sports Betting Bill Hits Roadblock in Georgia State House 

A bill in the Georgia General Assembly to legalize online sports betting is stalled on the House floor in a battle over election legislation.

Ron Stephens
Ron Stephens
State Rep. Ron Stephens (R) speaks with reporters about his bill to permit mobile sports betting in the state. The measure has been held up in the House. (Image: Georgia Public Broadcasting)

A sports betting bill by Rep. Ron Stephens (R) was scheduled for a vote on the House floor in Atlanta on  Thursday, but was set aside before a vote could occur, according to the Associated Press. 

Democrats have pulled their support in a dispute over voting and election bills, the AP reported. Democrats say Republican-backed voting bills would have a disproportionately negative impact on Black voters.

“If we’ve got leverage, it’s time to use it,” House Minority Leader James Beverly (D) told the AP. 

Among the voting and election bills that Democrats oppose are those that would limit early voting, require a photo ID for absentee voting, and restrict who could vote absentee.

Bishop Reginald Jackson is working with Democratic leaders in opposing GOP voting and election bills, the AP reported. He oversees more than 400 African Methodist Episcopal churches in the state.

“If they’re going to try to hurt us at the ballot box, then we need to hurt them with this legislation and not support it,” Jackson said.

The strategy of withholding Democratic support only will work on issues where Republicans are split and need help from across the aisle to win passage. Republicans hold the majority of seats in the state House and Senate. However, some Republicans are opposed to legislation that would expand gambling in the state.  

Tax Rates Differ

Stephens’ bill would put the Georgia Lottery Corp. in charge of managing sports betting. Under that structure, the bill would only require a majority vote in the General Assembly before going the governor, bypassing a more difficult process to amend the state constitution, Stephens says. Others say any gambling proposal requires a change in the constitution. 

Tax revenue from legal sports betting would help fund the state’s HOPE scholarship program. 

Stephens told Georgia Public Broadcasting he is confident his bill will come up for a vote on the House floor next week. He also said he believes the bill will pass.

This is politics,” he said. “It’s gonna be very difficult for somebody to throw up a red flag and a red vote against the HOPE scholars in this state.”

The Georgia Senate has a separate sports betting bill under consideration.

In the House version, sports betting companies would pay a 20 percent tax on gross revenue, the AP reported. The Senate versions sets the tax rate at 10 percent.

States Eye Sports Betting

Georgia is among several Southern states, including Texas and Alabama, where sports betting legislation is under consideration. Mobile sports betting became legal in Tennessee in November. 

In Louisiana, lawmakers during this year’s legislative session will have to decide upon several issues regarding sport betting. Voters in November approved sports betting in 55 of 64 parishes.

One issue still to be decided is whether bettors will be allowed to place wagers on their smartphones or will be required to bet only at sportsbooks inside casinos. The Legislature meets at the Capitol in Baton Rouge in April for a two-month session.

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