A bill has been approved by a Georgia Senate committee that would legalize sports betting in the state without the need for a constitutional amendment. The proposal, known as Senate Bill 386, received an 8-2 vote in favor from the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee on January 30. This sets the stage for further discussion and potential passage in the full Senate.

If the legislation is approved, it would allow for the issuance of 16 sports betting licenses, marking a significant shift in the state’s gambling landscape. Advocates of the bill, including representatives from the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Atlanta’s professional sports franchises, highlighted the potential benefits for Georgia. They believe that the license structure in the bill provides opportunities for license holders to apply through an open process or partner with a team, which they view as beneficial for the state.

However, the bill faces strong opposition from certain Republican lawmakers and religious groups. Mike Griffin of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board condemned the proposed legislation, calling it “state-sponsored predatory gambling” and warning of its negative effects.

One of the main points of contention surrounding the bill is its legality, with some questioning the authority of the Georgia General Assembly to approve online sports betting without a constitutional amendment. Some argue that such a significant policy change should be subject to approval by voters in a statewide referendum.

The bill also proposes to allocate 20% of earnings as taxes, following the distribution of prizes to bettors. Similar measures are being considered or enacted in other states in the region, including Florida and North Carolina. North Carolina is set to launch online sports betting operations in March, signaling a shifting landscape of gambling legislation in the Southeast.

The debate over the bill is expected to intensify, with both supporters and opponents gearing up for a contentious and closely watched legislative battle in the coming days.

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