Georgia, a state long coveted but not hospitable to gaming operators, could finally be warming to wagering expansion, including casinos and sports betting.
That’s the sentiment of State Rep. Ron Stephens, a Savannah Republican, who told Georgia Public Broadcast (GPB) that the time is right for the state to consider expanding the lottery to include more than just traditional cash draws.
He said he has never been more confident the Legislature will vote in the session that begins in January to have a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2024,” reported GPB.
During the 2022 campaign, Georgia Democrat gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams frequently mentioned sports betting as an avenue for boosting funds for the state’s HOPE college scholarship and pre-K programs. Abrams was soundly defeated by Republican incumbent Brian Kemp last November. Georgia political insiders view Kemp’s stance on gaming expansion as tepid at best.
Changing Landscape Could Boost Sports Bets
While Kemp hasn’t recently signaled a clear view regarding casinos, pari-mutuel facilities or sports betting, there’s mounting belief that some of the results from the 2022 midterm elections favor more regulated gaming options in the state.
For example, Lt. Gov.-elect Burt Jones, a Jackson Republican, previously sponsored sports wagering legislation when he was a state senator. Now he’s tasked with overseeing that chamber.
“Jones tapped state Sen. Brandon Beach, an Alpharetta Republican who routinely supports expanding legalized gambling in Georgia, to serve on the Senate’s influential Committee on Assignments,” according to GPB.
Polls indicate Georgia residents strongly favor bringing a casino to the state, which is currently one of just eight without a commercial or tribal gaming venue. Interestingly, while nearly 60% of Georgia voters support casinos, an October 2022 poll conducted by the University of Georgia indicates just 45.6% of those surveyed support regulated sports betting, while 42.4% oppose it.
Kemp opposed sports betting in his first run for governor in 2018, also against Abrams. But he steered clear of the issue last year.
Logistics of Georgia Sports Betting
While some states are able to legislate gaming expansion without direct say from the voters, Georgia is one where the issue must be approved by constitutional amendment.
That means there are a lot of moving parts. Two-thirds majorities in both the state House and Senate are necessary to advance any constitutional amendments to Georgia voters. In the case of gaming expansion, voters there would make decisions on two ballot initiatives — one pertaining to the issues of added wagering options, and another how those activities will be taxed.
Under Georgia law, the governor cannot veto the results of a referendum, meaning that if voters there sign off on casinos and/or sports betting, the state will likely abide by those results. There’s the potential for geographic advantages. None of the states that border Georgia currently permit mobile sports betting, indicating that if the Peach State strikes first, it could reap revenue rewards.
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