The state Senate soundly rejected legislation Thursday to legalize sports betting in Georgia.

Senate Bill 57 was defeated 37-19, as senators opposed to gambling joined forces with those who believe legalizing sports betting requires a constitutional amendment.

The bill’s supporters argued it would not require a constitutional change because it would not legalize either casinos or pari-mutuel betting, the only forms of gambling expressly prohibited by Georgia’s Constitution.

Instead, the bill defines sports betting as a lottery game, which Georgia voters authorized when they ratified a constitutional amendment in 1992 creating the Georgia Lottery.

Sports betting legislation that does require a constitutional change is also pending in the state Senate.

But since it would be limited to online betting, the other Senate measure wouldn’t have significant economic impact, said Sen. Billy Hickman, R-Statesboro, Senate Bill 57’s chief sponsor.

“SB 57 creates jobs,” Hickman said. “When you just bet on sports on your phone, no jobs are created.”

Hickman cited a study conducted by Georgia Southern University last year that found sports betting could inject $1.1 billion annually into Georgia’s economy and create more than 8,500 jobs, many in rural areas of the state.

Many of those jobs would come from raising racehorses and growing hay to feed them. The bill calls for building three horse racing tracks in Georgia.

Hickman said the state share of the proceeds of sports betting under his bill would raise an estimated $250 million to $350 million per year for Georgia’s HOPE Scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs.

But Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone, argued the revenue sports betting would bring in wouldn’t be worth the societal toll of expanding legalized gambling in Georgia.

“Much like drugs and alcohol, [gambling] leads to addiction,” Harbin said. “Gambling is financial foolishness. … The house always wins.”

With the defeat of Hickman’s bill, the proposed constitutional amendment is the only sports betting option still alive in the Senate.

The legislation cleared the Senate Regulated Industries Committee this week, but time is running out on the measure. It has yet to be scheduled for a floor vote, and Crossover Day – the deadline for bills to pass at least one legislative chamber – falls on Monday.

Dave Williams writes for Capitol Beat News Service

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