Senate Committee Green-Lights Measure To Legalize Casinos, Sports Betting In GA

Written By Phil West on February 23, 2024 - Last Updated on February 26, 2024
A picture of a green light for a story about a committee passing a GA casino resolution.

Senate Resolution 538 passed a committee by an 8-2 vote Thursday evening. It would create a referendum to legalize casinos and sports betting for residents to vote on in the fall.

SR 538 is different from the already-passed Senate Bill 386. That bill sits in a House committee and would allow voters to approve just sports betting in Georgia.

State Sen. Carden Summers, a sponsor of SR 538, said residents should have the final say on casinos and sports betting.

“Let’s put this issue to bed. Let’s see the people vote on this thing and say, vote yes, they want it, or no, they don’t. I trust the people of Georgia to make the decision,” he said during the committee hearing.

Officials voice benefits of casinos during committee hearing

Georgia is one of only a few states where sports betting and casinos remain illegal. Efforts in the General Assembly to legalize Georgia sports betting have all failed in the last few years. The first legislation to legalize casinos in Georgia was filed in 2017. As with sports betting, all efforts to make casinos legal have proved futile.

The Georgia Senate Economic Development & Tourism Committee’s passage of SR 538 represents a milestone of sorts. It’s the first piece of legislation on casino legalization to pass a Senate committee.

Before the vote, Summers pointed to the success of the Georgia Lottery to fund education in the state as a reason to green-light casinos.

“The Lottery has been wonderful for our children. And I hesitate to say, probably some of you may be for or against this bill … all have either children or grandchildren that use some of the Lottery funds.”

Summers also talked about reducing the original number of casinos proposed in the state from nine to five.

“I’ve been very consistent that I don’t want to create Las Vegas, but I do want to have at least five.”

A few speakers supporting the bill spoke before the Feb. 22 vote. Liberty County commissioner Justin Frasier touted the economic benefits casinos could bring to the state.

“I believe that introducing well-regulated casinos can bring about numerous positive outcomes that significantly contribute to our local economy. Firstly, the establishment of casinos can serve as catalysts for economic growth. These establishments have the potential to attract visitors from neighboring areas, leading to increased tourism and spending in local businesses. The additional revenue generated through taxes and license fees can also allocate towards the central Community Services infrastructure [and] improvements in education programs.

Moreover, the casino industry has a proven track record of creating job opportunities, from hospitality and also entertainment security. A wide range of employment opportunities becomes available, providing our community members with stable and well-paying jobs. This not only improves in individual livelihoods, but also contributes to overall prosperity to our community.”

Frasier also thought the state’s oversight could provide the needed guardrails to ensure people are gambling responsibly.

Representative of religious group voices opposition

Mike Griffin, public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, delivered some of the religious group’s established concerns about gambling, including perceived ties to crime, prostitution and sex trafficking.

“We can’t let money always be the ultimate reason why we do everything. We’re seeming to say we can legalize anything as long as we can raise money off of it, and we can’t let money be the ultimate moral standard on it.”

Griffin cheekily asked if the resolution would create future initiatives like “Horses for Hope,” “Money for Marijuana,” and “Pennies from Prostitutes.”

SR 538, which passed with a couple of friendly amendments, now awaits a floor vote scheduled by the Senate Rules Committee.

Photo by PlayGeorgia
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Phil West

Phil West is a longtime journalist based in Austin, Texas, whose bylines have appeared in The Daily Dot, Nautilus, Pro Soccer USA, Howler, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Chronicle. He has also written two books about soccer.

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