After turning down several chances to legalize sports betting this year, Georgia lawmakers will face another vote on the matter before the end of the legislative session on March 29.

The Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee voted 8-1 on Thursday to amend an existing bill designating a local soapbox derby race as the state’s official soapbox derby into a bill that would create a state-wide sports betting program by early 2024.

The original House Bill 237 now sits at 46 pages and the last minute maneuvering by the committee has riled some local lawmakers after what was expected to be a softball vote has now become a matter of debate.

“When you hijack a soapbox derby and put sports betting on the back of it, everyone that was on the fence in the state of Georgia is taking a side,” Sen. Mike Duggan, R-Carrollton, chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee, who opposes the measure, told lawmakers on Friday,

Under the proposed plan, the Georgia Lottery Department, which oversees the state lottery and other limited legal forms of gambling in the state, would manage the new sports betting program and direct proceeds towards educational programs, as is done with other lottery revenue.

By expanding the lottery department’s authority instead of creating a new agency, the move skirts the need for a constitutional amendment and avoids triggering a public referendum.

Proponents say the move is legal, with sport betting funds no different from other lottery earnings.

“Sports betting is deemed a lottery game,” Sen. Billy Hickman, R-Statesboro, told lawmakers following a vote on a similar proposal that was pushed through the same committee in February and killed on the Senate floor that same month.

House Bill 380, another proposal that would have cleared 16 sports betting licenses, nine for professional sports teams, failed to come to a vote before lawmakers at the end of February as well.

Other proposals addressing sports betting have been shot down by Georgia lawmakers recently and this new bill must still pass floor votes in the Senate and the House before the end of the legislative session.

Efforts to expand Georgia’s lottery’s offering have failed in recent decades. However, lawmakers were given new hope when Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp expressed his administration’s support for the industry.

Presently, 31 states and the District of Columbia have legalized sports betting.

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