House Speaker Ralston Advocates Legalized Gambling Constitutional Amendment

Written By Isioma Nkwonta on February 8, 2022 - Last Updated on March 3, 2022
Georgian Sports Betting Amendment Possible In 2023

Georgia may finally legalize gambling by putting the decision into voters’ hands. In early 2021, the state Senate passed a legislative amendment to legalize sports betting.

It is the closest the state has ever been to finally legalizing sports betting and gambling as a whole after the overturning of PASPA.

However, the bill never made it to the House as it was caught up in a partisan conflict.

Some Republicans choose to remain staunchly conservative in their views of gambling, while some Democrats refuse to support it as a way to protest the voting limitations from early last year.

Since the bill needed support from a majority of both parties, it was not passed and the hope for legalized sports betting in Georgia died as quickly as it came.

New hope for gambling restored

After crushing all hopes last year, it seems things may finally be looking up.

Last month, House Speaker, David Ralston, spoke with reporters and talked about plans for legalizing gambling in the state.

“We’ve tripped over the details of this thing for years,” Ralston said, according to Georgia Public Broadcasting. “Maybe we should just ask Georgians whether they want to allow gaming and, if so, move forward with the details.”

This plan involves lumping Georgia online casinos, pari-mutuel betting on horse racing, and sports betting as a broad gaming expansion referendum where citizens get to vote on all three at once.

The details of this ‘gaming expansion’ are not detailed in the referendum but rest on the General Assembly after the votes have been cast.

Finally, citizens get to decide if gambling is really a ‘vice’ and if they want to live with it that way. According to Rep. Ron Stephens, this shouldn’t be a problem for them to decide.

“It’s something we’re doing today,” he said, according to The Current. “People are betting. It’s just that … no [tax] revenue is being collected.”

His support for sports betting is widely known, as he introduced the standalone sports betting legislation last year.

Possible oppositions to the amendment

In spite of the good news, there remains considerable opposition to any form of gambling expansion.

The longest and most common opposition comes from the social conservative lawmakers who view gambling as a vice. One of them, and probably the most significant, is Governor Brian Kemp.

Kemp has been open about his opposition to gambling of any kind in the state.

However, Kemp has conceded that he won’t let his personal opinion get in the way of the voters’ and lawmakers’ choice.

As he said:

”It doesn’t matter what I think if they pass a constitutional amendment.”

Another barrier to this amendment is in the referendum itself. Lumping sports betting, casino-style gambling and pari-mutuel betting on horse racing together seems like a recipe for doom. It makes it easier for those opposing even one of these three gambling types to completely reject the bill.

All three are very distinct categories of gambling, and in Georgia, sports betting “has the most momentum of the three,” according to Rep. Ron Stephens.

Additionally, the details of the referendum are vague and the expansion may not be as significant as we hope.

Another significant opposition may come from Ralston himself.

He explained last month that his focus is on public safety and mental health and not ‘silly bills’.

This is a result of the urge for politicians to create bills that appeal to their political base during election years rather than focusing on laws that benefit the state as a whole.

As 2022 is an election year, this amendment fits Ralston’s description and risks falling behind on the back burner.

What next for Georgia sports and gambling fans?

It’s heartening to note that these oppositions may not heavily impact the amendment.

This is because of the increasing appetite for sports betting among Georgians. It is also due to the loss of potential tax revenue that lawmakers are finally waking up to.

It’s additionally worthy to note that the sports betting revenue is going towards pre-kindergarten programs and the HOPE Scholarship which makes in-state universities almost free for residents who meet the requirement.

If the referendum goes forward in November and passes, it moves to the General Assembly where the details of the expansions and regulations are properly straightened out.

Once done, Georgians can expect the commencement of said expansion and regulation by 2023.

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