Legal Gambling in Georgia

Georgia is known for many things, but legal gambling is not one of them.

The Peach State is actually the country’s top supplier of peanuts and pecans. It’s the birthplace of Ray Charles, Jimmy Carter and Martin Luther King Jr. Georgia is also home to numerous professional sports franchises, once hosted the Summer Olympics and is where Coca-Cola originated. But you won’t find too many legal gambling options in Georgia.

There are legal ways to gamble in the state, but nothing like what you might find elsewhere in the US. Here is a quick rundown of what’s available, as well as some speculation about the possibility of additional forms of legal gambling in the state’s future. 

Is gambling legal in Georgia?

Most forms of gambling are illegal in Georgia, although the state does allow a few gambling options like the following:

  • Georgia Lottery
  • Coin operated amusement machines
  • Charitable gaming 
  • Daily fantasy sports

In other words, Georgia has no legal sports betting, no legal wagering on horse races (live or online), and no real money online gambling. There are no casinos in Georgia. Nor are there any federally recognized Native American tribes in the state, which means no tribal gambling facilities, either.

Georgia gambling laws and regulations

Section 16.12.21 of the Georgia Code explains how “a person commits the offense of gambling” whenever that person …

  1. Makes a bet upon the partial or final result of any game or contest or upon the performance of any participant in such a game or contest.
  2. Makes a bet upon the result of any political nomination, appointment, or election or upon the degree of success of any nominee, appointee, or candidate.
  3. Plays and bets for money or other things of value at any game that uses cards, dice, or balls.

It’s easy enough to parse the language to see how Georgia prohibits betting on sports, political races, and elections, along with any sort of casino-type gambling. Online gambling for real money is also a prohibited activity. The section adds that anyone guilty of any of these offenses “shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” Georgia misdemeanor convictions can result in a fine of up to $1,000 and/or one year in jail.

Subsequent sections spell out in even more detail other types of illegal gambling activity. These include the offense of “commercial gambling,” which can involve operating a “gambling place” where participants engage in illegal gambling. Conducting illegal gambling in this fashion or in other ways can result in the person being “guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years or by a fine not to exceed $20,000.00, or both.”

The types of gambling that Georgia does allow — such as the lottery and certain types of charitable gaming — have received explicit authorization via amendments to the state’s constitution. Additionally, any new gambling expansion in the state will also require such an amendment in order to change current gambling laws in Georgia. 

Legal gambling age in Georgia

You need to be 18 or older to purchase Georgia Lottery tickets or to participate in charitable gaming such as bingo or raffles in the state. 

Georgia Lottery

By far the most popular legal form of gambling in the state is the Georgia Lottery. In 1992, Georgia voters approved a referendum to authorize a state-run lottery, and in June 1993, the Georgia Lottery sold its first tickets. 

Georgians spend about $6 billion per year on lottery tickets. As in many states, the Georgia Lottery helps fund educational programs, in particular, the HOPE Scholarship (for college and university students) and the Georgia Pre-K Program. During the most recent fiscal year, the lottery raised over $1.5 billion for those programs.

Lottery players in Georgia have a wide selection of draw and instant win games from which to choose. These include in-state games as well as multi-jurisdictional games like Powerball and Mega Millions.

Does the Georgia Lottery allow online purchases of tickets?

The Georgia Lottery does allow you to buy lottery tickets online. Georgia is one of only a handful of states to do so. In fact, when Georgia first began allowing online lottery sales in 2012, it was only the second state in the US to do so. 

You can play most of the draw lottery games either by purchasing tickets at one of the 8,700-plus Georgia Lottery retail locations or online via the Georgia Lottery app or website. There are a few games only available at retailers, including many “scratcher” or instant win games.

However, the Georgia Lottery also has a number of online-only games, which it calls Diggi Games. These are all instant win games, and they play a lot like scratchers. Except instead of scratching cards, you click to reveal hidden numbers or symbols and find out right away if you’ve won.

Coin operated amusement machines

The Georgia Lottery Corp. also provides oversight for another popular form of legal gambling in the state, coin operated amusement machines or COAMs. In fact, there is an entire COAM Division of the Georgia Lottery, the sole purpose of which is to serve as the regulatory body for COAMs in the state. 

What exactly are COAMs? Essentially, they are any machine that takes coins, tokens, cards or similar objects and invites players to play games that require some element of skill. They range from pinball, pool and other arcade games to so-called video line-up or match-up games that resemble video slots.

There are two varieties of COAMs. Class A games offer no potential rewards, and Class B games do. Note, however, that you cannot win cash playing COAMs, as that is not legal. You can win lottery tickets, gift cards, toys, store merchandise, food, beverages, gas and other non-cash prizes.

COAMs are available in convenience stores, gas stations, restaurants and bars throughout Georgia. They are big business, too, as Georgians spend around $3 billion a year playing the games. Much like with the lottery, a little over two-thirds of that money goes back to players in the form of prizes. But a large amount — around $900 million — goes to the HOPE Scholarship program.

Charitable gaming in Georgia

There are also certain forms of charitable gaming in Georgia that are legal under state law. Voters approved a ballot referendum in 1976 to allow charity bingo and raffles, and since then charitable gaming has remained a significant part of Georgia culture. 

Bingo is by far the most common form of charitable gaming in the state. The establishments operating bingo halls must have a license from the Secretary of State’s Office. At present, there are more than 130 active bingo licenses in the state. 

Only nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations can operate the bingo halls. There are strict limits regarding the number of sessions per week, the length of sessions and how much you can win in a given session of bingo at these licensed facilities. Organizations like the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, various fraternal orders and the like run these halls. 

Charity raffles are also legal, although those hosting raffles need to have a license from their local county sheriff and not the state. As with bingo games, only nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations seeking to raise funds for various causes can conduct raffles. 

We should note as well the existence of a small number of charity poker rooms in the state that also operate under the same legal framework as charity raffles. These charity poker rooms, along with so-called bar poker or tavern poker leagues, constitute the only examples of legal live poker clubs in Georgia

Daily fantasy sports in Georgia

While sports betting is illegal in Georgia, there is a way for Georgians to put some money down via daily fantasy sports contests. 

Georgia is like many states that neither explicitly prohibit nor allow daily fantasy sports. Technically speaking, daily fantasy sports or “DFS” operate in a legal gray area in Georgia, but that’s not unusual as many states are in the same circumstance.

As a result, popular DFS sites like DraftKings, FanDuel, and others allow players from Georgia to join their contests. Note that you need to be at least 18 years old to play real money daily fantasy sports. 

What’s next for legal gambling in Georgia?

The short answer is that the odds are against any gambling expansion for the state in the near future. However, it is possible we might see Georgia introduce additional types of legal gambling at some point down the road.

The most likely candidate will be sports betting. Dozens of other states have legalized sports betting since a 2018 US Supreme Court ruling lifted the federal ban on doing so. Among Georgia’s immediate neighbors, only Tennessee and North Carolina have legalized sports betting so far. Tennessee has online-only sports betting, while North Carolina allows sports betting only on-site at the two Cherokee casinos in the western part of the state.

Over recent years, lawmakers have introduced bills to authorize both retail and online sports betting in Georgia. During the 2021-22 legislative session, sports betting bills passed in the Senate and were close to receiving a full vote by the House just before the session ended in early April 2022. The bills failed to reach the House floor, however, so lawmakers will need to take the subject up again in 2023. 

There have also been multiple proposals to legalize commercial casinos in Georgia, although none has come close to earning the support that sports betting has. 

As is true in other states, for any gambling expansion to occur in Georgia, the voters would first have to approve doing so via a ballot referendum. Additionally, members of both the state House and Senate would have to introduce and pass legislation by a two-thirds majority authorizing a constitutional amendment reflecting the change. The governor would then have to sign the bill(s) into law.

If all of that were to happen, there would still be a need for regulations covering any new type of legal gambling. That means even should sports betting (for example) become legal, it would take some time before any Georgians would be able to partake in the newly legal form of gambling. 

Stay tuned, though. Should any developments emerge regarding gambling expansion in Georgia, PlayGeorgia will be here to let you know.