ATLANTA – Legislation to legalize sports betting in Georgia left for dead after Crossover Day in the General Assembly last week was brought back to life Thursday.
None of the four measures on sports betting introduced early in this year’s session made it through the Crossover Day deadline for bills to pass at least one legislative chamber to remain alive for the year.
But on Thursday, the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee inserted a lengthy sports betting bill into a much shorter measure declaring the Southeast Georgia Soap Box Derby the state’s official sports box derby.
The sports betting measure, introduced by freshman Sen. Derek Mallow, D-Savannah, would authorize the Georgia Lottery Corp. to oversee online sports betting in Georgia. Twenty-two percent of the adjusted gross income derived from sports betting would support the state’s HOPE Scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs.
To discourage addictive gambling, the bill would allow bettors to use debit cards only. Betting would be allowed on professional and college sporting events but not high school games.
Committee Chairman Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, thanked Lt. Gov. Burt Jones for helping put together the sports betting measure. As a state senator, Jones introduced sports betting legislation three years ago.
“He’s been a strong advocate for sports betting for a long time,” Beach said.
But Sen. Mike Duggan, R-Carrollton, objected to sports betting advocates essentially stealing the soap box derby bill for their own purposes. He said passing sports betting that way would set the industry back in Georgia by five years.
“When you hijack a soap box derby and put sports betting on the back of it, every person who was on the fence in Georgia has picked a side of the fence,” Duggan said. “It will not pass on the [Senate] floor.”
Freshman Rep. Leesa Hagan, R-Lyons, the original bill’s chief sponsor, went so far as to ask Beach to remove her bill from the sports betting legislation if the committee was determined to try to push sports betting through the General Assembly that way.
“I don’t want my soap box derby to be associated with sports betting,” she said.
Beach told Hagan he would find another bill moving through the legislature and attach her legislation to it.
The sports betting bill now heads to the Senate Rules Committee to schedule a floor vote.