Sports betting back on political agenda | Senate hijacks soap box derby bill

Once thought dead only a week ago, legalized online betting suddenly has new life.
Online sports betting, an issue once thought dead only a week ago in the Georgia General Assembly, has been unexpectedly revived.
Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 1:52 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 17, 2023 at 2:50 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Online sports betting, an issue once thought dead only a week ago in the Georgia General Assembly, was unexpectedly revived during a Thursday morning Senate committee meeting.

State Sen. Derek Mallow (D-Savannah) introduced an amendment to HB 237, a bill originally designed simply to designate the Southeast Georgia Soap Box Derby in Lyons, Georgia, as the state’s official soap box derby. The bill was the first-ever piece of legislation introduced by state Rep. Leesa Hagan (R-Lyons), a freshman lawmaker.

The bill came up during the economic development and tourism committee, chaired by state Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta).

Before the committee approved the bill, Beach said his staff, along with support of Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, worked to introduce the language into the bill late Wednesday night.

“The lieutenant governor and I came into the Senate together and he has been a strong advocate for sports betting for a long time,” Beach said.

State Sen. Mike Duggan (R-Carrollton) was incredulous. He said the move erodes the trust of Georgians.

“When you hijack a soap box derby bill with sports betting, the damage you have just done to the industry of sports betting in unfathomable,” Duggan said. “This will not pass on the floor of the Senate.”

Hagan requested all language in her bill relating to the soap box derby be removed, which the committee granted.

On Crossover Day last week, the Senate rejected a constitutional amendment that would have allowed voters to decide whether to legalize sports gambling, while the state House never took up a bill that would have authorized sports gambling without such an amendment.

That seemed to spell doom for the issue of legalized, online sports betting, until Thursday.

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Some Georgia lawmakers typically attempt to expand gambling every year, but none of the efforts have succeeded since voters approved a state lottery in 1992. Momentum had appeared to be building behind this year’s effort after Gov. Brian Kemp had voiced openness to signing a bill. But efforts to assemble a winning coalition failed in both houses.

Beach said the amendment to legalize sports betting would designate that the revenue goes to the Georgia Lottery Fund. The move would bring in an estimated $50 to $100 million for the HOPE scholarship fund.

“We want to fully fund the HOPE scholarship, Governor Kemp has said he wants to fully fund the HOPE scholarship, and for us to do that we have to make sure we have revenue sources for us to do that,” said Beach.


Sports betting is already legal in 34 states, although only some allow in-person gambling.