Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams announced a plan on Tuesday to integrate legalized casinos and sports betting into her economic platform.
With a little luck, this plan could be just what the Peach State needs to finally welcome Georgia sports betting.
Stacey Abrams takes a gamble on legalized gambling
Abrams currently sits in a tight election race that is likely to hinge on the way each candidate plans to supplement Georgia’s growing economy. According to a recent Atlanta Journal Constitution poll, she trails 5% behind Republican incumbent Brian Kemp in the race.
While Abrams has focused her economic agenda around access to education and Medicaid, Kemps has tried to link her to a shaky economy (high inflation and gas prices) perpetuated by the Biden administration. Kemp has referred to it as the “Biden-Abrams agenda.”
Meanwhile, Kemp responded the day after Abrams’ comments.
“This is the thing about my position on that: it hasn’t changed,” Kemp said, according to WABE. “I’m at the same place I’ve always have [been]. To be able to do that here, it’s gonna take a constitutional amendment. It doesn’t really matter what the governor thinks, you can’t veto a constitutional amendment.”
Legal sports betting & gambling are permanent revenue sources for Georgians
Abrams recently discussed how she intends to fold Georgia sports betting and gambling into both her economic and academic development plans. She noted that the gambling industry could offer Georgia a permanent source of revenue. It could also help to significantly bolster state education funds. She said:
“Studies project that the potential for billions exists in economic impact, funds that will not only finance our efforts to replenish and expand the HOPE scholarship but it will also provide new economic opportunities for Georgia that can grow jobs and make our economy stronger for everyone.”
The lottery-funded HOPE scholarship, which began in the early 1990s, provides tuition assistance for students interested in attending an eligible Georgia college or university. Abrams sees legal sports betting and gambling as a way to expand the scholarship’s potential reach.
Currently, the HOPE scholarship’s initial academic eligibility requires a 3.0 GPA. But on Tuesday, Abrams proposed to use gambling revenue to expand eligibility to students with a “C” average and above.
She also suggested revenue generated from gambling could provide need-based financial aid and free technical college for Georgians. Abrams said of her agenda:
“Hear me clearly, we don’t have to raise taxes. All we have to do is raise our expectations of those who lead us.”
Georgia has consistently resisted expanding gambling to fund education efforts
Both Republican and Democratic party lawmakers have traditionally opposed expanding the HOPE scholarship’s reach via any form of legalized gambling.
Similar to other states where gambling legislation has failed to reach the ballot, opponents in Georgia have often resorted to religious objections and arguments concerning gambling addiction.
Mike Griffin, a lobbyist with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, has stated:
“Yes, it creates revenue, but it also creates other needs. Gambling is an addictive product just like heroin, opioids, alcohol and cocaine . . . Sports betting is the most accessible form of gambling that there is, which creates more problems – quicker problems – and sometimes more devastating problems from a mental-health and bankruptcy issue.”
Despite the prevalence of these arguments, a 2020 AJC poll found that 58% of Georgia voters favor legal gambling. The state senate has also made some traction on the issue. Last year, legislation calling for legal Georgia sports betting passed the senate but was stalled in the house. As a result, a measure has yet to reach the ballot.
Georgia’s massive budget surplus puts state at a crossroad
When touting her economic vision, Abrams noted the significance of the state’s massive $5 billion budget surplus.
“This fall we face a generational moment. We have a windfall. But the question is, what we will do with it?”
Abrams is hoping an economic package that includes sports betting and casino gambling can inspire voters concerned with both economic development and the rising costs associated with inflation. Her sense of urgency could also be seen as an attempt to satisfy an anxious electorate.
Abrams may support passage, but legal gambling comes down to legislature
Abrams’s plan may outline a relatively clear picture for how gambling revenue could be spent. But the nuts and bolts of legalization – tax rate, licensing requirements, and specific regulations – will largely be shaped by Georgia’s congress.
The Senate successfully passed sports betting legislation last session. But Senate Rules Chairman Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga), who sponsored the legislation, is not seeking re-election. Finding a new sponsor will be the first challenge for legislators next session.
Sen. Burt Jones (R-Jackson), another past sponsor of sports betting legislation, is also not seeking re-election to the Senate. Instead, he is running for lieutenant governor. Should Jones get elected, he would have control over which topics receive floor debate. This could then ultimately help the senate repeat the last session’s success. In speaking to the AJC, he said:
“Obviously, as the lieutenant governor, you don’t carry bills, but if somebody did carry it and it was put together appropriately, I would definitely allow it to get on the floor for a vote. And I think it would pass.”
Abrams could inspire other state leaders proposing gambling legislation
Abrams’s open endorsement of sports betting and casino gambling represents a bold and decisive move at a crucial time. Gambling remains a contentious issue in jurisdictions nationwide. And those concerns are especially prevalent in the south.
Beto O’Rourke, another prominent Democrat with an uphill battle in a governor’s race, also earlier this year endorsed sports betting in Texas.
If Abrams is able to lead Georgia down a path to legalization, the achievement could very well inspire and educate other states facing a similar impasse.