Georgia House Speaker says legal sports betting still possible this legislative session

Georgia Speaker of the House Jon Burns said Thursday that it is still possible for a sports betting bill to secure passage during the 2023 legislative session. His remarks come even though a number of efforts failed to meet a crucial deadline last week.

“We have a 40-day session last time I checked, and we’re going to have a 40-day session this year,” Burns said at an Atlanta Press Club luncheon, as per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We don’t close the door on anything. We’re going to continue to talk.”

The key Georgia Republican believes sports betting is still on the table although four sports betting initiatives have been either rejected or failed to reach a vote this year. Local media points out he sounded more optimistic than he did after adjourning just before midnight Monday, when he told reporters: “This year was not the right time for it in the House.”

Several senior GOP officials indicated on Thursday that the sports betting measure still has an opening, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Although measures that fail to advance by Crossover Day, which took place March 6, have less of a chance of becoming law, they can still see life if their language is tacked onto other bills that previously cleared a chamber.

Georgia sports betting proponents believe that several measures could potentially work as “vehicles” for a renewed legalization push. Efforts to regulate sports betting have received the support of Gov. Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov. Burt Jones. For his part, Burns said he preferred legalizing sports wagering over a broader expansion of gambling.

A measure that would have legalized sports gaming and betting on horse racing was rejected two weeks ago in the Senate, as lawmakers voted 37-19 against it. Another measure seeking an amendment to the state constitution to regulate the practice fell short of the two-thirds threshold it needed in the chamber last week. 

A constitution amendment is hard to get as it requires two-thirds support in each chamber, plus a majority approval vote in a statewide referendum. A constitutional path would also delay the implementation of sports betting by at least two years, while a legislatively authorized framework, requiring only majority approval to pass, could be implemented as soon as this year.

Meanwhile, a third proposal failed to reach a vote in the House last week. House Bill 380, which does not call for a constitutional amendment, would send revenue to the HOPE scholarship and Georgia’s pre-K program.

On a yearly basis, some Georgia lawmakers attempt to expand gambling. However, their efforts have never been fruitful since voters approved a state lottery in 1992. Nonetheless, a sense of inevitability is growing that Georgia will eventually approve some form of sports wagering, if not in 2023, maybe in the coming years.

Polling shows voters are enthusiastic about the prospect, according to a recent survey by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs. The push also has the backing of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the city’s pro sports teams.