More than 10 million residents live in Georgia, making it one of the top 10 most populated states in the US. However, there are no casinos at present in the Peach State, commercial or tribal.
That situation could one day change. On several occasions, Georgia lawmakers have introduced legislation to authorize casinos in the state. The most recent such effort came at the start of the 2021 session, as a House Resolution emerged proposing an amendment to the state’s constitution that would authorize a limited number of licensed casino resorts in Georgia.
The resolution was ultimately withdrawn, although the topic of casinos continues to receive attention.
Meanwhile, legislators have also begun to contemplate other bills designed to introduce sports betting in Georgia and license horse race tracks, indicating a continued interest in gambling expansion.
Here is an overview of where the discussion over Georgia casinos has gone and where it might be headed going forward.
Not only are there no casinos in Georgia, but it is also one of the least gambling-friendly states in the country. In fact, the only significant type of gambling legally permitted is the state-run Georgia Lottery.
Over recent years, legislators have repeatedly brought up the possibility of introducing casinos to help generate revenue. Near the end of the 2020 legislative session, a House committee even voted in favor of a measure to put a question to voters on that November’s ballot. That question: Should there be a constitutional amendment authorizing sports betting, pari-mutuel wagering, and casino gambling?
But that proposal, as well as a separate effort to legalize just sports betting, failed to move out of the legislature before the session ended. As noted, a House Resolution in 2021 to authorize casinos met a similar fate and was subsequently withdrawn.
Otherwise, Georgians have to travel to other states for a genuine casino experience.
Real-money gambling online is not legal in Georgia, so those in the state cannot play games at real-money online casinos.
However, there are some online casinos that employ the sweepstakes model and serve players in Georgia. These online social casinos use virtual currencies rather than real money, enabling them to operate in states that otherwise do not allow real-money gambling online.
In most cases, these sweepstakes-model online casinos use two virtual currencies. Players can purchase and play games with one of the currencies, essentially “play money” with no cash value. However, they can also accumulate a second virtual currency by other means, such as giveaways or bonuses, then exchange that currency for real cash and withdraw.
Georgia is among the states where such sweepstakes-model online casinos operate. Popular ones include:
This sweepstakes-based online casino features over 70 slots games plus blackjack and video poker. Operated by Virtual Gaming Worlds based in Australia, Chumba Casino provides a number of bonuses and incentives to regular players. The site also offers a number of methods to accumulate Sweeps Coins, the currency players can exchange for cash.
LuckyLand Slots is also operated by Virtual Gaming Worlds. The focus of this sweepstakes-based online casino is slots, with a selection of 30 titles all of which are exclusive to the site. Luckyland has a reward system by which players receive bonuses simply by logging in each day. The site also features scratcher and instant win games. Here, too, players can collect Sweeps Coins and exchange them for cash.
Another popular sweepstakes-based online casino, Funzpoints offers slots and daily jackpot drawings. Operated by Woopla, Inc. of Nova Scotia, the casino features over 30 titles plus one keno game. Players can play in either Standard or Premium mode, with the latter featuring Premium Funzpoints currency that can be exchanged for cash.
For Georgia to allow commercial casinos, current gambling laws in the state must be changed.
A first step would likely involve legislators proposing a ballot referendum to let Georgia voters show where they stand on the issue of casinos. However, even if voters were to approve the authorization of casino gambling, there would still be considerable work to do before casinos actually open in Georgia.
Adding a constitutional amendment requires approval by a two-thirds majority from both the state General Assembly and the Senate. Given that lawmakers have yet to allow any casino legislation to proceed beyond the committee stage and even be voted upon by either full chamber, getting to that two-thirds majority seems a dim prospect. At least for the time being.
Incidentally, commercial casinos would be the only option in Georgia. There are no federally recognized Native American tribes based in the state. So, unlike some states that have tribal casinos but no commercial casinos, tribal casinos aren’t really a possibility in Georgia.
Even so, casino proponents appear nonetheless ready to persevere with the battle. The fact that lawmakers are actively considering bills to authorize sports betting and wagering on horse racing in Georgia offers some hope to those wishing to see even greater gambling expansion.
Those in Georgia wishing to visit a casino do have a few options just over the borders in neighboring states.
Georgians in the southern part of the state can travel to Florida, where there are numerous casinos and racinos. None are especially close to the border, although there are multiple poker rooms in Jacksonville. There are a few jai-alai frontons scattered throughout the state as well.
The nearest major casino requires a longer drive, down to Tampa, to visit the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. With nearly 250,000 square feet of gaming space, the Seminole Hard Rock Tampa is one of the largest casinos in the country, complete with nearly 5,000 slots and around 180 table games, as well as a massive 46-table poker room.
Those in northern Georgia can hop over to either of the two North Carolina casinos. The larger Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in Cherokee features more than 3,200 slots, over 100 table games, and a 25-table poker room.
There is also the Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River & Hotel in nearby Murphy, which boasts 60,000 square feet of gaming space that includes 1,000 slots and 70 table games.
To the west, not far from the border, are still more gambling options in Alabama. The state’s largest gambling destination is Quincy’s 777 Casino and Victoryland Greyhound Park, located about a 75-minute drive from Columbus, Georgia, and featuring 3,200 slots.
Go about 15 minutes further on I-85 to reach the Wind Creek Casino & Hotel Montgomery tribal casino that has about 1,700 slots-like electronic bingo games. The Wind Creek Casino & Hotel Wetumpka is just a few miles west from there, featuring more than 2,000 electronic bingo machines.
For many years, those hoping to legalize casinos in Georgia have fought a losing battle. Rep. Ron Stephens has been the legislator most conspicuously at the forefront of these efforts. Meanwhile, MGM Resorts International has been among those investing time and energy to lobby for casinos in Georgia.
In 2017, Stephens and Sen. Brandon Beach introduced identical bills to add a constitutional amendment allowing two casinos in the state. One would be located in Atlanta and another either in Savannah, Columbus, or Augusta. A majority of the revenue created would be earmarked for the state’s popular HOPE Scholarship program.
Those bills failed to move, and while nothing developed in 2018, casino proponents continued to champion the cause. While waiting out that year’s elections, Stephens began drafting new legislation to allow three casinos.
In early 2019, Stephens again proposed a resolution to add a constitutional amendment permitting casinos in the state. The House Economic Development & Tourism Committee approved Stephen’s resolution, but it failed to move further. Still, the topic continued to attract attention, including from a special committee chaired by Beach to review the pros and cons of legalizing various types of gambling, including casinos.
In 2020, a similar process played out, with the same House committee again approving a Stephens-sponsored resolution to add the ballot question and no further progress after that. Meanwhile, momentum began building to legalize sports betting and/or horse racing in Georgia. At the start of 2021, a variety of gambling bills appeared, including those focused on those issues.
Stephens again proposed a casino bill in January 2021, this time with support from Rep. Alan Powell and Rep. Calvin Smyre. However, when no parallel legislation was introduced on the Senate side, the bill was withdrawn.