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Georgia sports betting legalization efforts found new life with an unusual legislative maneuver, but it remains unclear if this last-ditch effort will ultimately lead to regulated wagering.

Georgia lawmakers earlier this month inserted online sports betting legislation into an unrelated soap box derby bill. The maneuver gives legalization hopes new life, but opposition remains from both anti-gambling lawmakers as well as those opposed to the inclusion in an unrelated piece of legislation.

State law requires legislation to pass either the House or Senate by a certain deadline. Two proposals in both the House and Senate failed to reach that deadline this year.

However, proponents revived the sports betting legislation by inserting it into the soap box derby bill, which passed the House by that deadline.

The revised House bill could be heard on the House floor before month’s end. If passed, an identical version would also have to pass the Senate. Gov. Brian Kemp would likely then sign the bill into law.

Bill details

The current bill would allow the Georgia Lottery to contract with up to 15 mobile sports betting operators while creating a sports betting platform of its own. Eight of those 15 licenses would be delegated to professional sports organizations or facilities to choose a partner while the other seven would not have to affiliate with any team, league or venue.

FanDuel, which has an office in Atlanta, as well as other market leaders including DraftKings and BetMGM would likely look to go live in the state. Caesars operates two casinos in western North Carolina, the nearest gambling facilities to the Atlanta metro area, and would likely also seek a license.

One of the nation’s 10 most populated states and home to several notable pro and college sports programs, Georgia would likely attract a wide range of other interested operators.

If the latest effort passes, Georgia could potentially have legal mobile sports betting before year’s end. Proponents of the current bill have argued mobile sports betting, if put under the lottery’s purview, would not require a constitutional amendment.

The debate over the need for such an amendment has been one factor stalling the bill. Other sports betting proponents have argued that any such gambling expansion requires voter approval. If that scenario were to pass, a statewide ballot measure would be unlikely until November 2024, meaning legal wagering wouldn’t begin until 2025.

Other lawmakers have vehemently opposed sports betting on religious and moral grounds. Conservative, anti-gambling lawmakers in the GOP-controlled legislature remain arguably the largest political stumbling block, despite the support of Kemp, a Republican.

Southern expansion remains slow

Georgia’s difficult sports betting legislative effort mirrors multiple other Southern states, which remain the nation’s region least amenable to such expansion.

Neighboring Alabama has rejected multiple gambling efforts in recent years and seems unlikely to do so. South Carolina lawmakers have introduced several sports betting legalization proposals in recent years but none have gained significant traction.

North Carolina, which allows retail sportsbooks at tribal casinos, has so far not approved mobile wagering, though lawmakers are considering another bill this year. Florida technically approved mobile wagering through the Seminole Tribe’s Hard Rock app, but that move was later disallowed by a federal court.

Mississippi has in-person sports betting at casinos but has failed to approve mobile wagering. Only Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia have approved multi-operator mobile sports betting markets.

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