Online sports betting is back on the table as Georgia lawmakers hijack the soapbox derby bill

A late entry into the 2023 legislative session has revived the hopes of sports betting fans in Georgia.

Five chances remain for the full chambers of the Senate and Georgia House to vote on online sports betting legislation that was given new life last week when a Senate panel hijacked a bill aimed at recommend a local soapbox derby. A panel of the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee voted 8-1 on Thursday to move forward with Bill 237, which would legalize sports betting in Georgia, after Carrollton Republican Sen. Mike Dugan criticized the tactic used to attach it to an innocuous bill.

Republican House Speaker Jon Burns and Lt. Governor Burt Jones have been open to reviving gambling legislation after lawmakers repeatedly failed this year. On Thursday, Republican Sen. Alpharetta Brandon Beach, who chairs the Economic Development and Tourism Committee, thanked the lieutenant governor for his willingness to allow sports betting another chance before the end of the session on March 29.

Dugan said grafting the language of the game into the soapbox derby bill would backfire despite claims by the authors of the rewrite. Dugan noted that one change billed as a small tweak involves adding 45 pages to a two-page measure.

“When you hijack a soapbox derby and put sports bets in it, every person that was on the fence in the state of Georgia just picked a side of the fence,” the former Senate leader said. Majority Caucus.

“It won’t pass the (Senate) floor and I think everyone here knows it won’t pass the floor, and the damage you’ve just done to the sports betting industry by trying this is unfathomable. “, said Dugan.

This year, the chances of the legislature voting to legalize sports betting seemed almost doomed. The Senate rejected two proposals ranging from a basic online sports betting bill that would be bolstered by a constitutional amendment to one that would open up online sports betting and allow machines in licensed venues. The broader Senate bill would allow racetracks, as well as online and on-site kiosks, to accept bets on professional and college sports online via cellphones, tablets and laptops.

Senate Bill 57 and a House measure on sports betting did not call for a constitutional amendment. Instead, his Republican sponsors relied on an opinion by former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton that a statewide referendum is not necessary if the game is operated by the Georgia Lottery.

The language of the replacement bill was still not available online Friday, but in the committee’s presentation, Democratic Sen. Derek Mallow said the Georgia Lottery would oversee sports betting, including issuing gambling licenses. and that the proceeds would be used for the same purposes as the HOPE college scholarships and state lottery pre-K programs.

The language in Republican Rep. Lyon Leesa Hagan’s original legislation to declare the 31-year-old Southeast Georgia Soapbox Derby the official state soapbox derby does not is no longer included in the surviving bill. She called the soapbox derby a source of pride as young people take part in the annual event to race in homemade cars with the help of family members and mentors.

“I don’t want my soapbox derby to be associated with sports betting, and I would ask that you take my language out of that,” she told Senate committee members at Thursday’s meeting.

Several times during each legislative session, new language is attached to a bill as a political tactic for supporters to overcome the breach of a key deadline. None of the bills dedicated to expanding legalized gambling met the Crossover Day deadline of March 6, the last day for a bill to have an easy path to the governor’s office.

Charles Bullock, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia, said most of those massive changes to bills that passed through the chambers before the deadline are caused by plans that failed. But there are also times when an emergency arises that requires bypassing the normal legislative process to get a bill passed quickly.

Provisions of one bill can be incorporated into another as long as both fall under the same Georgian code of law, such as the soapbox derby being an athletic competition. Ironically, the sports betting measure prohibits placing money on events involving minors.

“A lot of times you would approach the sponsor of the bill that you would somehow turn on and nudge him and get his okay to let it happen instead of forcing it on him,” Bullock said.

It may take a few years, but Bullock believes legalized sports betting will grow in popularity over time.

Neighboring Tennessee is already reaping economic benefits from sports gambling, which it legalized shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for online betting in a 2018 ruling. If other neighboring states join lap, Bullock predicts Georgia will follow, just as it did in the 1990s when South Georgians traveled to Florida to buy Powerball tickets and scratch-off lottery tickets.

Democratic Gov. Zell Miller has led the charge in a lottery that has raised billions for education since 1993.

“Georgia tends not to be the first state to do something new,” Bullock said. “We tend to hang around and let the support grow.”

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