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Georgia mulling betting bill with no constitutional changes

Georgia gambling news - wagering bill comes under consideration

Lawmakers in Georgia are proposing legislation to permit betting on sports and horse racing, without first conducting a state constitutional amendment.

The bills for both activities are being pushed separately by Senate and House members. House Bill 380 was introduced on Monday by Watkinsville Republican Rep. Marcus Wiedower to permit sports betting in the state. A committee is scheduled to vote on House Bill 380 within the week.

On Tuesday, a hearing by the Senate committee was held for Senate Bill 57. The Sen. Billy Hickman-sponsored bill seeks to make horse racing a part of sports gambling. The statute will also permit up to three horse racing tracks with regulated betting in the state. Brandon Beach, Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee Chairman, disclosed that a vote would be held on the Senate bill next week.

The House and Senate bills argue that the proposals would be legal under Georgia’s constitution because they were not in violation of restrictions on pari-mutuel betting or casino gambling.

Currently, 34 states have legalized betting in the US; however, only a few states authorize in-person betting. Lottery is the only form of gambling accepted in Georgia, despite the efforts of some of the state’s lawmakers to expand the activity.

READ: Gambling laws in Georgia

Most horse racing betting in the country is done via pari-mutuel pools, and players usually bet against each other. The Senate bill, however, proposes a fixed-odds betting system where the horse track or another party would be at the other end of the wager.

House Bill 380 will provide up to 16 sports betting licenses, seven of which will be reserved for betting companies like FanDuel and DraftKings. The rest will be given to the Professional Golfers’ Association, the Masters golf tournament, the Georgia Lottery Corp., Atlanta Motor Speedway owners, and pro sports teams such as the Atlanta Falcons.

While the Senate bill has several similar features in terms of sports betting, it differs from the House bill in some areas. One such instance is that it does not allow operators to withdraw credit for free bets issued to gamblers.

For the bill to pass, it needs a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly and voters’ approval in a statewide election. A Republican faction has declined to support gambling based on moral reasons; however, they do not have up to a two-thirds supermajority in the General Assembly chambers.

Once the bill passes both chambers, it only needs the Governor Brian Kemp’s signature to pass. Kemp, a Republican, previously revealed that he was all for legalizing sports betting.

Only individuals 21 and older and those physically present in the state will be allowed to place bets. The betting permits will be given to coin-operated amusement machine owners in convenience outlets.

Republican Lt. Gov. Burt Jones is in support of legalizing sports betting and revealed that he did not think a constitutional amendment would be required. Republican House Speaker Jon Burns, on the other hand, revealed that he had some reservations concerning moving forward with the bill without the amendment.

Earlier this year, Harold Melton, former state Supreme Court Justice published a piece in support of the view proposed by the House and Senate bills. He claimed that it was possible for sports betting to be made legal only through legislative action.

“Based on my review of the relevant law, the original public meanings of applicable terms and the historical context of those terms, it is my opinion that sports betting can be legalized as a state-run lottery for educational purposes solely through legislative action,” he said in the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce piece.

A number of attorneys that serve as advisors to the legislators have, however, warned that without an amendment, the bills would be subject to legal challenges.

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