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Authorizing sports betting in Georgia may lack needed votes from lawmakers

ATLANTA (AP) — There’s still a chance Georgians could vote on authorizing sports betting in November, but the odds may be poor.

The House Higher Education Committee on Thursday passed out both a proposed state constitutional amendment and authorizing legislation that would let Georgians bet legally on pro and college sports.

But a top Democrat said his party still wants to see changes in how state taxes on sports betting would be spent. Without Democratic votes, a constitutional amendment can’t achieve the two-thirds majorities needs to pass the House and Senate. And Republicans are far from unified. Some GOP lawmakers oppose sports betting, saying they don’t want the state to sanction destructive and addictive behavior.

Time is short to reach any agreement. Lawmakers will conclude their 2024 annual session after sundown Thursday.

House Minority Whip Sam Park, a Lawrenceville Democrat, voted to advance Senate Resolution 579 and Senate Bill 386, but said he and other Democrats don’t support the bills passing as they’re currently written. That’s because the House committee changed the measure to allow taxes to be deposited for the use of HOPE college scholarships and prekindergarten classes.

The Senate measure prioritized using the money for prekindergarten, and some Democrats also want money to be used for other purposes, such as college financial aid that doesn’t require students to achieve and keep certain grades.

“It deviates from the bipartisan compromise in the state Senate that prioritized funding for voluntary pre-K,” Park said.”

Supporters say Georgians should get a chance to vote, arguing many are already betting on sports illegally.

“This allows us to get those people off an illegal market into a legal market, allows us to regulate it and tax it, and take care and protect Georgia citizens,” said Rep. Marcus Wiedower, a Watkinsville Republican sponsoring the measure in the House.

Opponents, though, warn that legalizing sports betting will provide a pathway to addiction, especially for younger gamblers.

“When it is sanctioned by the state, to me it provides a different level,” said Rep. Clay Pirkle, an Ashburn Republican. “If the state says it’s OK, it becomes OK for a lot of people not doing this now.”

Sen. Bill Cowsert, the Athens Republican who has been leading efforts in that chamber, said he believed the constitutional amendment, which would provide up to $22.5 million to treat gambling addictions, would provide “the most robust problem gaming provisions of any sports betting legislation in this country.”

Nationwide, 38 states allow sports betting. Some states allow only in-person bets, although most allow electronic betting from anywhere. Georgia’s earlier bill would take 20% of proceeds in taxes, after winnings are paid to gamblers. Nationwide, tax rates are set at anywhere from 6.75% in Iowa to 51% in Rhode Island and New York.

Jeff Amy, The Associated Press

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