How Upcoming Georgia Primaries Will Impact Expansion of Legal Sports Betting

Written By Mike Breen on May 14, 2024
The GA state capital, under construction, signifying the state legislature races that could impact the expansion of online sports betting

The May 21 state primaries won’t necessarily indicate what the party breakdown will be in the Georgia Senate and House in 2025. That will have to wait until November’s general election.

But the primaries will determine if some of Georgia’s leading gambling expansion supporters will return to fight again.

While Georgia Republicans have held a solid majority in both chambers in recent years, it’s partisan gamesmanship that has often stalled legislation to expand gambling at the General Assembly.

Tax Revenue Disagreements Sunk Sports Betting in 2024

All attempts to pass legislation to legalize Georgia sports betting have failed in the past few years, as have bills to add retail casinos in the state. Lawmakers have opposed gambling legislation in Georgia for a variety of reasons, with moral objections usually the main culprit.

This year, it came down to disagreements over how tax revenue would be divided. Those differences of opinion sunk efforts to pass sports betting legislation. These issues will remain hurdles in expanding gambling in Georgia next year and beyond.

Another obstacle is the insistence from some lawmakers that any gambling expansion requires a constitutional amendment. That necessitates a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers to pass. That makes bipartisan support crucial, and it gives the minority party more power.

In 2021, House Republicans helped doom legislation that would have legalized sports betting after the state’s sports teams expressed opposition to unrelated voting rights legislation that they saw as voter suppression. The sports teams would have benefitted by receiving sports betting licenses, so Republicans withdrew their support to punish the teams.

After sports betting bills failed to pass the next two years, lawmakers tried again in 2024. As it had previously, legislation legalizing sports betting easily passed the Senate with bipartisan support. But House Democrats ultimately helped kill the measure, wanting more tax revenue for things like needs-based college scholarships, full pre-K education funding, free school lunches and money for historically black colleges and universities.

Republicans currently hold a 102-78 advantage in the Georgia House.

Most Senate Gambling Expansion Supporters Running Unopposed in Primary

For any gambling expansion bills to pass in the next two years, it will be critical to have the most vocal and active supporters back in the state Senate. In recent years, lawmakers have introduced bills to legalize not only sports betting but also measures to allow retail casinos and pari-mutuel wagering on horse races. That could be the case again in 2025.

This year’s sports betting legislation easily passed the Senate early in the session. Most of the major Senate voices who’ve shown support for gambling expansion are running unopposed in the May 21 primary. They include:

  • Republican Sen. Brandon Beach, who co-authored this year’s sports betting bill and has previously proposed legislation that would have also allowed for casinos and horse-race betting.
  • Republican Sen. Clint Dixon, who introduced 2024’s sports betting bill, Senate Bill 386, which passed the Senate.
  • Republican Sen. Bill Cowsert, who introduced the companion resolution that would have allowed sports betting via a constitutional amendment.

Sen. Gloria Butler, a Democrat who co-authored the Senate sports betting legislation, is not running for re-election.

Leading House Sports Betting Supporter Faces Primary Challenge

In the House, among the members facing a primary challenge is Republican Rep. Marcus Wiedower, a longtime sponsor of sports betting legislation who took the lead in lobbying for House support for SB 386 and Senate Resolution 579. Wiedower faces newcomer John Michael Grigsby in the primary.

Here’s what the primaries look like for other House members who’ve played a role in recent gambling legislative battles:

  • Republican Rep. Ron Stephens, who has sponsored bills in previous years that would have brought casinos, horse-race betting, and sports betting to Georgia, will not face a primary opponent this year.
  • Democrat Rep. Teddy Reese, who previously lobbied for support for Beach’s gambling expansion proposals, is facing Alyssa Williams in the primary.
  • Democratic Rep. Sam Park, whose last-minute efforts to divert tax revenue to needs-based scholarships and other interests helped slow sports betting legislation this year, has no primary opponent.
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Mike Breen

Mike Breen is a contributor for several of Catena Media's regional sites. He focuses on gambling trends and the legislative process. The Ohio-based writer has more than two decades of experience covering sports, news, music, art and culture.

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