State Sen. Billy Hickman

 ATLANTA – A Georgia Senate committee approved a sports betting bill late Monday with little discussion.

The Senate Economic Development Committee passed the legislation 8-1 and sent it on to the Rules Committee to schedule a vote of the full Senate.

Senate Bill 57 would allow sports betting both online and in person at kiosks that could be placed inside a variety of businesses, including sports venues. Sports betting would be overseen by the Georgia Lottery Corp.

“Sports betting is deemed a lottery game,” said Sen. Billy Hickman, R-Statesboro, the bill’s chief sponsor.

For that reason, Senate Bill 57 contemplates legalizing sports betting in Georgia without the need for a constitutional amendment. It essentially would be added to the games already authorized since Georgia voters approved the creation of a lottery in 1992.

The legislation’s backers are relying on a recent legal opinion from former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton that a constitutional change isn’t necessary to legalize sports betting. As a result, the bill would require only a simple majority in the state House and Senate to pass. Constitutional amendments are a steeper climb, requiring two-thirds majorities.

Not everyone in the General Assembly agrees with Melton’s analysis. A second measure now before the state Senate calls for a constitutional amendment to allow sports betting. If it gets through the legislature, it would go to Georgia voters in a statewide referendum next year.

The proposed constitutional amendment in the Senate would limit sports betting to online wagering only.

Competing bills introduced in the Georgia House of Representatives also offer lawmakers the option of whether to require a constitutional amendment.

Under Hickman’s bill, 20% of the adjusted gross income derived from sports betting would go to the Georgia Lottery Corp. to benefit education. At a hearing on the measure last week, Hickman said sports betting potentially could generate $300 million to $400 million annually for the state.

Citing an economic impact study released last year, Hickman said sports betting could inject $1 billion annually into Georgia’s economy and create more than 8,500 jobs.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.