Georgia Lawmaker Champions Gambling Expansion in Peach State

A Georgia legislator says he will introduce a bill this year to allow sports betting in the Peach State.

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A sportsbook patron eyes a wall where screens are positioned showing live games and point spreads. At this year’s legislative session, Georgia lawmakers will take gambling expansion under consideration. (Image: Los Angeles Times)

Ron Stephens (R) said a sports-betting bill is one of three gaming measures he will file after the beginning of the session on Monday at the Capitol in Atlanta.

In addition to a sports-betting bill, Stephens plans to introduce legislation to amend the state constitution allowing for casino gambling and horse racing, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

A constitutional amendment requires two-thirds approval in both legislative chambers and passage in a public vote. A bill only requires a majority in both chambers before going to the governor.

Stephens said he doesn’t think the state constitution would have to be amended for sports betting to go forward in Georgia.

“We’ve gotten some opinions from the people that write our bills that sports betting doesn’t require a constitutional amendment, and it’s something people are doing in Georgia already,” Stephens said.

The newspaper noted that Georgia residents already can place mobile sports bets, probably by using “overseas servers.” This practice is illegal in Georgia.

Also, some Georgians probably are crossing into Tennessee to place bets. Mobile sports betting became legal in the Volunteer State last fall. Anyone within Tennessee’s borders can place a bet on a smartphone. The East Tennessee city of Chattanooga is only about two hours from Atlanta by car.

Sports Betting’s Growth

This push in Georgia comes as sports betting is expanding across the nation. Sports betting is legal 19 states and Washington, D.C., according to the American Gaming Association website. It is legal by not yet operational in six more states.

During the November election last year, sports betting was approved in the three states that had it on the ballot. These states are Maryland, Louisiana, and South Dakota.

In some states, including Louisiana, the legislative debate this year will center on whether to allow mobile betting on smartphones or to restrict it to ticket windows and kiosks inside casinos.

In New York, the governor and key legislators have indicated they will support mobile sports betting this year to help plug a pandemic-related budget hole amounting to billions of dollars.

Opponents Cite Downsides

Any effort in Georgia to expand gaming beyond its current lottery system is expected to be met with resistance. While supporters point to job creation and money for Georgia’s HOPE scholarship, detractors say gaming is addictive and leads to crime.

Mike Griffin, a lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, told the Atlanta newspaper that gaming opponents “have been able to defeat any expansion of gambling for six straight years.”

I know that the gambling industry is wanting to expand in Georgia, but the detriment of doing so far exceed the benefits,” he said. 

State Rep. Wes Cantrell (R) told the newspaper gambling hurts the local economy by draining money from other entertainment options. He noted that cultural amenities such as Atlanta’s Fox Theatre and Woodruff Arts Center oppose casinos in the state.

“Do we really want to see some of Georgia’s iconic entertainment venues shut down?” he asked.

While the debate continues in Georgia, legislators in neighboring Alabama also are considering gaming expansion. A recently released state report looks at various gaming opportunities for Alabama. 

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