Georgia Policymakers Look to Legalize Sports Betting Without Usual Vote

USA Legal Betting


  • 36 states have legalized sports betting
  • Parimutuel betting is illegal in all forms in Georgia
  • Legalizing sports betting by statute would not legalize casinos, which could be more popular

Georgia lawmakers are ready to circumvent a two-thirds majority vote to help legalize sports betting this year.

State constitutional amendments require the aforementioned two-thirds vote. However, the officials in question are pushing bills in both chambers of congress that would create a legal sports betting market by statute. This only requires a majority vote instead of the full two-thirds support.

Former Georgia Chief Justice Harold Melton encouraged the pro-gambling group after he said a state constitutional amendment is unnecessary. The state’s legislative session began on January 9 and is over halfway done with its 40-nonconsecutive-day schedule.

Sound reasoning

Georgia is one of 17 states without an active sports betting market and one of 14 that have not legalized it at all. Conversations have been ongoing for some time, most notably during the recent gubernatorial race between winner Brian Kemp and runner-up Stacey Abrams, but no tangible progress has been made.

Despite previous opposition, the climate for legal sports betting is only getting more inviting. FanDuel sportsbook reported it accepted roughly 50,000 bets per minute, and geo-tracking company GeoComply confirmed roughly 100 million unique transactions occurred at the peak of the recent Super Bowl between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs.

Melton’s recent decree could help ensure that Georgia does not miss out on major events such as the Super Bowl or the impending March Madness. 

Written in a 10-page letter to the Metro Atlanta Chamber, which supports the legalization of sports betting, Melton declared that sports betting can be grouped with the state lottery that has been legal since 1992.

“Bettors pay a fee to enter the betting scheme with the hope of winning money,” he wrote.

According to Melton, the Georgia Court of Appeals established the precedent for three necessary components of the lottery: prize, chance, and consideration. As long as those are met within reason, an enterprise can be considered a lottery.

Melton continued that the “chance” element could be the most difficult to establish when it comes to sports betting, though he argued that it is still present.

“Although a bettor may exercise some skill in picking a particular team or athlete as the winner, the actual determination of a winner is entirely dependent on the ultimate performance of the teams or player,” wrote Melton.

Lacking full support

As lawmakers ready to use statutes to pass sports betting legislation, one bill could take it a step further.

Sen. Billy Hickman (R-Statesboro), the sponsor of Senate Bill 57, is looking to tack horse race betting onto traditional sports betting.

Any form of parimutuel betting—that is, betting in pools—is illegal under Georgia legislation. SB 57 addresses that concern by limiting horse race betting to fixed-odds betting, which has no fluctuation in payouts once a bet is placed.

While Melton and other pro-gambling policymakers are on board with creating a sports betting market, others are not. Former U.S. Rep. John Barrow (D-Athens) is one of several who have voiced opposition to the “legalistic hocus-pocus” that would take place.

"'Pari-mutuel’ is the word that has always been applied to gambling on the outcome of some contest – a race, a fight, a game, whatever,” Barrow wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Unlike a lottery, it depends on such things as the skill or strength of the contestants, and on the skill of the gambler in evaluating the contestants. This is the very essence of sports betting.”

Another issue lawmakers face is that legalizing sports betting through statute would omit the legalization of casinos. Recent polls have shown that local voters would be more likely to support casino legalization than sports betting. Several influential figures have also argued that legalizing casinos would do more for the local economy than welcoming online sportsbooks.

A constitutional amendment that would legalize sports betting has been introduced in both the House and Senate thus far. However, it is possible lawmakers look to continue with their plan to use statutes to achieve their goal.

Grant is a sports and sports betting journalist who prides himself in his up-to-the-minute reporting on the latest events in the industry. A member of Virginia Tech’s 2021 graduating class, he has quickly put together an impressive portfolio since moving to the professional world full-time. Grant’s favorite sports to cover are basketball and both types of football (American and soccer), and he is pushing written, audio, and video content. He has been employed by companies as highly regarded as Forbes and continues on a great trajectory in the industry. When he’s not on the clock, you can find Grant at the gym, looking for adventures, or hanging out with his family.