Senator Says Georgia Sports Betting Set Back Five Years After Piggybacking on Soap Box Derby Bill

  • The Southeast Georgia Soap Box Derby Bill, HB 237, now includes sports betting language
  • Some lawmakers are optimistic about the bill as it involves zero changes to the state constitution
  • Senator Dugan stated HB 237 won’t pass, that those attending the committee meeting knew it too
  • HB 237’s sponsor distanced herself from the amended bill, requested her language get removed
Wild soap box derby in Atlanta
Georgia Senator Mike Dugan says piggybacking sports betting language on a soap box derby bill will set back hopes of a legal market for five years. [Image:]

Years of failure

Years of seeing bills to legalize sports betting die on Georgia’s House or Senate floor proved too much this time around for state Senator Mike Dugan after a Hail Mary attempt to get a legal market across the line this year.

walked out of a Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee meeting

On Thursday, Dugan walked out of a Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee meeting ahead of an 8-1 vote to piggyback Georgia sports betting language onto House Bill 237, originally created to promote the Southeast Georgia Soap Box Derby. Georgia state representative Michael R. Griffin shared the news on a Twitter video, urging voters to say no to the bill:

The last-ditch move was orchestrated by the committee’s chairman, Senator Brandon Beach, and Senator Derek Mallow. While the new tactic involves zero changes to the state’s constitution and technically gives Georgia sports betting a chance of getting across the line in 2023, Dugan thinks the bill won’t pass and that it will do long-term damage.

“Whoever came up with this idea just set sports betting back five years,” he said before walking out.

Slim hopes

While some media outlets are talking up HB 237’s chances of success, Dugan said the damage it has done Georgia sports betting is “unfathomable.” He believes that, by jumping on the soap box derby train, sports betting has placed a target on its back, and that “every person that was on the fence […] has just now picked a side.”

everybody in here knows it won’t pass on the floor”

Furthermore, the Senator told the committee HB 237 will not pass on the floor and that “everybody in here knows it won’t pass on the floor.”

In February, state Senator Harold Melton publically mooted the idea of legalizing online wagering by a change to statute rather than constitution. Using the soap box derby as a Trojan Horse for sports betting, however, doesn’t sit comfortably with some lawmakers.

Soap box drama

Georgia House Representative Leesa Hagan was one of the discomfited, unsurprisingly, as she was the sponsor of the soap box derby bill. She requested that her language get stripped from the amended bill, explaining: “I don’t want my soapbox derby to be associated with sports betting.”

Despite the controversy surrounding the bill’s attachment to a motorless vehicle race, the tax rate for sports betting in Georgia is now set at 22%, which is a compromise between the 20% rate proposed by the House, and the 25% rate proposed by the Senate in prior legislation.

With the Georgia legislative session adjourning on March 29, the repurposed soap box bill ultimately represents the final sniff of a chance for legal sports betting in the state this year.

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