The much-anticipated 2023 legislative session is underway. Changes atop each chamber could mean a smoother path for legalized Georgia gambling.
After the retirement and death of former Speaker David Ralston, the Georgia House of Representatives has elected majority leader Jon Burns to the seat. Over on the Senate side, state Burt Jones was elected as the new lieutenant governor, elevating him to the president of the chamber.
New leaders mean new priorities
Once a close ally of Ralston, Burns has not formally weighed in on the Georgia gambling debate since assuming the role. However, it’s important to note that Ralston offered vocal support during last year’s session. Jones, however, sponsored Georgia sports betting bills as a state senator. He will now preside over that chamber and carry influence over his caucus.
The changes in leadership spell a season of change for the Georgia Assembly, with Ralston, the longest-tenured House Speaker in the country, holding the gavel since 2010. With shifts in leadership come shifts in priorities, and sports gambling will likely again be on the front burner for the House and Senate.
Legislators vocally supportive of Georgia sports betting
State Representative Ron Stephens (pictured above), a Republican from Savannah, has been outspoken on his desire to get a constitutional amendment on the 2024 ballot, which would allow Georgians to vote on sports gambling legalization:
“We walk away from $100 million every year in sports gambling, and other states, and places like Antigua, get that money from people here in Georgia. Let’s regulate it, tax it, and put the money in Hope and pre-K.”Cobb County Courier
The Hope Scholarship and Pre-K programs have received over $21 billion in revenue since the Georgia Lottery was created. Both programs stand to receive a substantial windfall should sports gambling become legal in Georgia, which is ostensibly what most lawmakers will use as a justification for supporting the measure.
Optics are important
So, while legislation on sports gambling should be up for debate, one hangup will be the addition of Georgia casinos and sportsbooks. Legal online gambling is popular in the state, but physical locations have garnered opposition from powerful groups, including the Georgia Baptist Convention.
Lawmakers will need to be mindful of their maneuvering and the public optics once they propose bills for sports betting in Georgia.
The 2023 Georgia Assembly is already marked by monumental change, with two brand new leaders at the helm of their respective chambers. That change could certainly extend to sports gambling in the state, which failed to make it across the finish line in the 2022 legislative session.