5/14 Forever: Why is it so Hard to Get Sports Betting Legalized in Georgia?

If you’re confused about whether sports betting — or any betting at all — is legal in Georgia, you’re not alone. 

While a select few types of gambling are not just allowed, but actually operated by Georgia’s government, most are prohibited with an iron fist. What’s more, the Peach State’s famously unpeachy attitude on gambling is articulated in the first Article of the State Constitution:  

Except as herein specifically provided … all forms of pari-mutuel betting and casino gambling are hereby prohibited; and this prohibition shall be enforced by penal laws. 

Translation: Gambling is illegal in Georgia, under all but extremely specific circumstances.

Dimers.com contributor Mac Douglass explains the murky challenging road to sports betting legalization ahead for the Peach State.

 

But it’s not all bad news. Particularly for sports bettors. 

One type of gambling currently allowed in Georgia is daily fantasy, and state legislators have consistently, if unsuccessfully, endeavored to legalize alternate forms of sports wagering ever since the Supreme Court revoked its federal ban with the May 14, 2018 decision in New Jersey vs. NCAA. 

Though no laws have been passed, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s take a look at Georgia’s historical relationship with gambling, and the barriers between the current ban and legalization.  

Can you gamble in Georgia?

Currently, three forms of gambling are either legal, or not expressly banned, in Georgia. These could create a precedent for future forms of legal gambling, so it’s critical to understand how, and why, each is allowed. 

Bingo—The most common objection to gambling in Georgia is it hinges on luck, not skill, so it’s counterintuitive that bingo, inarguably a game of chance, was the first form of gambling to be legalized, with the Georgia Bingo Game Amendment of 1976. Alas, while it may feel this creates a precedent for legalized sports betting, bingo is only permitted if the institutions that facilitate it don’t make a profit. As every sports better knows, sportsbooks do turn a profit, or at least try to. Unless that changes (which it won’t), bingo is all but useless as an argument for legalizing sports wagering in Georgia. 

State Lottery—This matters. The second form of gambling legalized in Georgia was the state lottery, with the Georgia State Lottery Amendment of 1992. Unlike bingo, the lottery does turn a profit, but it’s allowed anyway. Why? It’s all about the money. The Georgia State Lottery finances education across the state, and would never have been permitted, much less run by the government, if it didn’t. Could sportsbooks cut a similar deal, foregoing a significant portion of their profits to fund education, in order to gain support for legalization? Possibly, but not yet. The most recent bill to legalize sports betting was SR (Senate Resolution) 135. While the bill failed in the chamber before the fineprint could be hashed out, the only reason SR 135 made it as far as it did was the prospect of gambling proceeds funding education. For sports wagering to be legalized in Georgia, the money’s got to talk. 

Daily Fantasy—For Dimers readers, this is surely the most eye-catching item on the list. At present, most major daily fantasy providers—Draftkings, Fanduel, and Outlast, to name just a few—are available in Georgia. But don’t get too excited. Unlike bingo or the lottery, daily fantasy games are not legal in the Peach State. They’re merely tolerated, because there isn’t a law that concretely bans them. On the other hand, in the past four years, multiple pieces of legislation have been introduced to ban daily fantasy; they’ve all failed, often in response to the argument that daily fantasy is a game of skill. However, as we sports betters understand, wagering on the outcome of a contest requires every bit as much skill as determining which player will post the best stats. So every day Georgia legislators fail to ban daily fantasy, the precedent strengthens for legalizing broadscale sports wagering.   

Now that that’s covered, there’s a final, critical roadblock to unpack.  

Legalization sports betting means amending the Georgia Constitution

It all boils down to this. Contrasting, for example, North Carolina, where a simple majority in the state assembly could legalize sports betting (and very nearly did last week), in Georgia the state constitution itself needs to be amended. Like amending the US Constitution, this would require a two-thirds majority in the Georgia House and Senate. As long as two thirds is more than one half, this will remain the greatest obstacle to legalizing any new form of gambling in Georgia.   

What’s next for sports betting in Georgia?

We wait. When SR 135 died in the Georgia chamber in April, so did any possibility of sports betting being legalized this legislative cycle. And the next cycle doesn’t start until 2024. Bleak as that sounds, momentum is growing, and precedents are strengthening, and people will always gamble in Georgia, just like they do everywhere else, whether the state regulates (and profits from) it or not. Legal sports betting will become reality in Georgia. Just don’t hold your breath. 

 

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