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A bipartisan group of Georgia lawmakers has introduced a sports betting legalization bill that could bring the state’s first legal sportsbooks, potentially as early as this year.

If approved, the Georgia Lottery would have control over the state’s sportsbooks. Gaming industry legal analysts believe this move would not require an amendment to the state constitution and, potentially, allow the state’s first mobile books to take bets by the end of 2023.

Previous legislative efforts have included a ballot measure to amend the state constitution. If lawmakers were to take this approach again in 2023, it would mean a measure couldn’t come until 2024 and legal betting couldn’t begin until 2025.

Long legislative battle ahead

The bill, introduced Tuesday, still faces a long path toward legalization.

The Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee has not yet set a hearing for the proposal. Assuming passage, the bill must also pass the entire Senate, and then go through a similar path in the House.

Each chamber must pass identical versions of the bill, meaning lawmakers in both the House and Senate must agree to any changes.

Assuming it passes the full General Assembly, the bill must also be signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. Kemp has publicly announced plans to increase the state lottery-funded college scholarships, which could be bolstered by legal sports betting, but it remains to be seen if he will support what would be the most significant expansion of legal gaming in the state since voters approved the state lottery nearly 30 years ago.

Previous sports betting legalization efforts have been derailed by anti-gambling Republicans in the GOP-controlled legislature. Though both Democrats and Republicans have indicated support for legal sports betting, including in the bill introduced this year. gambling opponents in key committees could again derail these efforts.

Lawmakers may also be skeptical about a proposal that doesn’t require a ballot measure after elected officials had pushed that approach in previous legislative sessions. Politically, allowing voters to decide could also give elected officials cover from what could be a contentious issue.

Georgia’s legislative session is set to end in late April, giving proponents less than three months to complete the lengthy legislative process.

Assuming Kemp signs the bill or allows it to pass into law, which will logistically have to come sometime before the summer, and the bill survives further legal challenges, this would set up mobile sportsbooks to potentially start taking bets by year’s end. Kansas and Arizona are among several states that have passed a sports betting bill and begun taking bets in the same year, though others have taken 12 months or longer.

Georgia sports betting bill details

If passed as introduced, Georgia’s sports betting bill could set up one of the nation’s more competitive markets.

The bill would allow for up to 18 licenses, which if all allocated, would set up one of America’s largest markets by operator total. Nine licenses would be set aside for sportsbooks partnered with Georgia professional sports teams or leagues with events in the state, including the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and MLB’s Atlanta Braves. Nine other licenses would be set aside for books not affiliated with any existing sports groups.

Georgia is one of the few states with no legal commercial casinos or horse tracks. Most other states have required mobile sportsbooks to partner with a brick-and-mortar gaming facility.

US market share leader FanDuel has an office in Georgia and has been one of the leading advocates for mobile sports betting in the state. Other US market share leaders including DraftKings, BetMGM and Caesars would be among the likeliest companies to pursue licenses in the state.

Additional leading sportsbook operators including Penn Entertainment (Barstool Sportsbook), Rush Street Interactive (BetRivers) and PointsBet as well as expanding companies such as Fanatics and bet365 would likely consider licenses, especially under the current regulatory structure.

All the aforementioned organizations have partnerships with multiple professional sports teams and organizations in other states.

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