Legalizing Georgia Casinos Is Popular With Voters. So What’s The Holdup?

Written By Jarrett Huff on July 18, 2023 - Last Updated on July 20, 2023
Several obstacles remain before legal gambling can come to Georgia.

Commercial casino gambling is not currently legal in Georgia. However, according to a poll of expected voters, it’s likely many voters would be in favor of Georgia casinos.

National polling firm Public Opinion Strategies polled 800 Georgians and found 66% in favor of legalizing casinos. Even more supported having voters decide whether to legalize casinos or not, which sat at 85%. Voters favored the legalization of sports betting by 60%.

The idea of legal casinos also has strong bipartisan support. Democrats were 73% in favor and 60% of Republicans polled favored legalization. 

What needs to happen for GA voters to approve legal gambling?

It’s interesting that Georgia leaders allow the Georgia Lottery, but efforts to allow casinos in the state have failed over and over.

The poll showing most Georgians in favor of casinos was commissioned by All in Georgia, a group involved with the casino industry. Dan McLagan, a spokesperson for the group, believes the legalization of gambling in the state would bring a lot of positive economic change to the state:

“Casino gaming would be an enormous economic boost and job creator for our state. Georgia should go big and up our game as an economic powerhouse, tourist destination and job creator.”

With the potential for a lot of voter support for legalized gambling, in addition to the economic benefits for Georgia, what would it take to bring legalized casinos to The Peach State?

Bringing any form of legalized gambling to Georgia would require voters to pass a constitutional amendment. Before that can happen, though, there are a few steps that need to be taken.

Senate and House must act before voters can

First, according to Article X, Section 1, of the Georgia Constitution, the amendment must be presented as a resolution in either the state Senate or House of Representatives. Once that happens, a two-thirds majority is required from either chamber to pass the resolution.

Once approved by both chambers, the proposed amendment will be part of the next general election, which occurs on even-numbered years. Then, voters statewide could decide on whether or not to approve a new amendment to the constitution. It’s more than likely that the Georgia Lottery would serve as the regulator of legal gambling within the state.

On March 5, 2021, Senate Resolution 135, a bill to amend the language in the state constitution to help legalize sports betting in Georgia, passed 41-10 in the Senate. The resolution then went to the House of Representatives, where it passed 160-6.

The next state general election will most likely take place around October 2024. The soonest legalized gambling could come to the state would be Jan. 1, 2025, provided voters approve an amendment. Based on recent attempts, it’s unlikely to happen by then.

So why aren’t Georgia casinos legal?

This has been a difficult year for the legalization of gambling in Georgia. An attempt to get House Bill 237, a bill for designating an official soap box derby in the state which then had language added to legalize sports betting, passed by the Senate failed to even be discussed. The bill needed to get passed by March 22 for the process to move forward in the calendar year. The bill would have potentially brought up to 16 mobile sports betting operators to the state.

SR 140 and SR 172, which aimed to bring legalized sports betting and responsible gambling measures to Georgia, both died in the Senate chamber in March. Senator Bill Cowsert, sponsor of SR 140, was frustrated by the results, which would’ve given voters a chance to vote on the legalization of sports betting in 2024:

“I don’t get why it’s wrong to let the people of Georgia vote on this issue. We’re not little mini-dictators up here, dictating what the policy will always be.”

Senate Bill 57, which wouldn’t have needed an amendment to be passed, failed as well. Legislators seemed less-likely to support a bill based on horse betting when compared to sports betting. HB 380, a bill similar to HB 237, with a ton of backing from sports betting operators, also failed.

Why have so many bills failed?

There are many reasons for why many of these bills and resolutions failed. Some reasons include the divide between legislators on how to go about legalizing forms of gambling, whether through constitutional amendments or without them, despite bipartisan support.

Moral objections of legislators have also been a factor in the inability to move forward with any gambling legislation. Some legislators have voiced concerns about the negative impact gambling can have on their constituents. Gambling addiction worries are the primary concern. Mack Parnell, executive director for the Georgia Faith and Freedom Coalition, has likened legalizing gambling to the hypothetical legalization of dangerous drugs:

“One argument that I hear quite frequently in favor of this legislation is, ‘Well, it’s already happening in our state, so we might as well get the revenue from it.’ I would say there are a lot of things that are happening in our state, but that doesn’t mean the state should embrace it. Fentanyl, for example: Just because that’s happening in our state and devastating communities doesn’t mean the state should embrace it.”

Opposition from powerful conservative religious organizations have also made it difficult to push any legislation through.

Legalizing sports betting has also fallen victim to political retaliation. Democrats have opposed legalizing sports wagering due to Republicans pushing through a bill limiting transgender youth health care.

It’s possible that not much changes over the next few years.

What can Georgia gambling supporters do?

The best way to help bring safe and legalized gambling to Georgia is by doing one simple thing: Voting.

Whether or not a bill or amendment is on the ballot for the public to be voted on, residents still have power to vote in legislators who favor or would support some form of legalized gambling.

It’s really up to the citizens of Georgia to make it happen.

Photo by Shutterstock

Jarrett Huff Avatar
Written by
Jarrett Huff

View all posts by Jarrett Huff