Could 2022 be the year gambling expansion in Georgia finally gets approved?
Legislation to authorize legal sports betting in GA, horse racing, and the building of new casinos in the state will appear once the 2022 session begins in Jan. That said, to borrow an expression from the casino, it appears everything is on the table.
State Rep. Ron Stephens a longtime advocate of gambling in GA said, “it looks more encouraging than ever.”
High requirements for legalizing gambling in Georgia
While there is a state lottery in GA, the state has long been resistant to other forms of legal gambling. However, lawmakers are opening their eyes to the missed tax revenue legalized gambling provides. Especially with sports betting available in 26 states and gambling expanding nationally.
Adding casinos or other types of gambling in GA will be a heavy lift for state legislators. First of all, the current law requires lawmakers to approve a ballot referendum asking voters if they support legalizing any new type of gambling.
If voters favor a change, lawmakers must propose and approve legislation adding a constitutional amendment reflecting the change. Any such bill would require a two-thirds majority vote from both the House of Representatives and Senate.
Any form of new gambling in GA would likely involve the Georgia Lottery Corporation (GLC). All of the recent gambling bills have the GLC listed as the regulatory body proving oversight.
In GA, proposed legislation consistently earmarks a portion of gambling revenue to the HOPE and pre-kindergarten programs. Established in 1993, HOPE awards grants, scholarships and other financial assistance to Georgia college students.
A spotlight on sports betting, profits in neighboring states adding pressure
A recent article at The Current describes how sports betting is a new topic of contention.
One previously proposed bill introduces online-only sports betting to GA, same as in Tennessee, another southern state without casinos. A few Atlanta based professional sports teams support this idea, including:
- Atlanta United (MLS)
- Braves (MLB)
- Falcons (NFL)
- Hawks (NBA)
Other proposed legislation seeks to establish retail sports betting and pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing.
More than 30 paid lobbyists representing the casino industry are part of the pro-gambling effort in GA. These lobbyists represent a few well-known gaming operators:
- Hard Rock
- Wynn Resorts
Such backers point to the success of tribal casinos in surrounding states as a good reason for Georgia to make a move. Neighboring states have casinos, including:
- North Carolina
All three states are looking to add more gambling options in the future.
Rick Lackey, an Atlanta real estate developer said, “you’ll see a lot of Georgia license plates” at those casinos in neighboring states.
Proposed gambling bills, resolutions increasing each year
Georgians seeking casino gambling have a single option, the Emerald Princess Casino, a cruise ship that docks in Brunswick. The ship allows gambling for a few hours during short cruises taken on the East River Thursday through Sunday.
In 2017, identical bills were introduced in the state House and Senate to add a constitutional amendment allowing the construction of two casinos. One would be in Atlanta, and the other in Augusta, Columbus or Savannah. Both bills had minimal support.
Four years later, in 2021 the Senate passed one resolution related to sports betting legislation. The bill depended on the resolution’s passage to make sports betting in GA legal.
Such support from the Senate strongly suggests sports betting will be legal in GA come 2022. Other forms of legislation should appear as well. What will happen once lawmakers begin showing their cards remains to be seen.