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Constitutional amendment could smooth Georgia’s path to legal wagering


Georgia’s deputy legislative counsel, D. Stuart Morelli stated that an amendment to legalise sports betting in the state may not be required, but is preferable due to the ambiguity of the current situation.

The statement came as part of Morelli’s advice to Senate Study Committee on Gaming and Pari-mutual Wagering on Horse Racing and Growing Georgia’s Equine Industry, which was established in April to study opportunities to regulate betting, gaming and horse racing in the state.  The committee held a hearing Tuesday (8 October) to further examine the issue.

“Owing to the wording of the Georgia Constitution, reasonable arguments could be made on both sides of the question, and the ultimate success of an attempt to legalize sports betting without a constitutional amendment will come down to the roll of a dice,” Morelli said.

Article I, Section II, Paragraph VIII of the constitution of Georgia explicitly prohibits certain forms of gambling, including pari-mutuel betting, casinos and lotteries other than the Georgia state lottery.

However, sports betting is not mentioned, and as a result Morelli said that interpreting the text “plainly,” as judges are instructed to do, would lead to the conclusion that sports betting is not prohibited.

In addition, previous statutes over the past 130 years have explicitly prohibited sports betting in Georgia, which Morelli said suggests the vertical was not covered in the constitution.

Morelli’s advice also states that even if sports betting is covered in the list of prohibited gambling in the constitution, an exception could be made for sports betting should it be operated the Georgia Lottery.

The constitution grants the state the power to organize lottery games — defined as “any game of chance approved by the Georgia Lottery Corporation and operated pursuant to this chapter” — for educational purposes.

“Since Georgia has historically considered sports betting a ‘game of chance’,” Morelli writes, “it appears that the General Assembly has given the Lottery Corporation the authority, if the Corporation so chooses, to allow sports betting.”

However, Morelli also noted that the arguments against sports betting already being constitutional appeared strong as well.

Morelli noted that with pari-mutuel betting prohibited, the line between legal sports betting and illegal pari-mutuel betting may be ill-defined. Similarly, Morelli said that sports betting could fall under “casino gambling,” especially as many states have authorized sports betting only at casinos.

Morelli said that any sports betting bill is sure to face legal challenge, and therefore an amendment would be the best way to ensure sound legal footing for such a bill.

“Because of the even odds on whether or not the Georgia Constitution currently prohibits sports betting, the only surefire way to avoid years of protracted litigation over the matter would be a constitutional amendment that explicitly authorizes the legalization of sports betting in one or more forms.”

The committee’s hearing also featured presentations and testimony from operators such as DraftKings and FanDuel, supplier Scientific Games and sports bodies such as Major League Baseball.