Georgia lawmakers say they will once again introduce legislation seeking to legalize commercial gambling when the General Assembly reconvenes early next year.
The state legislature is slated to gather on January 10. Its 2022 legislative session runs through the end of Match. During that time, gambling bills are expected to be considered in the Atlanta capital.
Gambling efforts in Georgia have failed in each legislative session over the past decade. But with sports betting proliferating across the nation, and many new states entering the US gaming industry, some Peach State politicians believe the time is finally ripe for a casino bill and/or sports gambling measure to gain adequate cross-party support.
It looks more encouraging than ever,” state Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), a longtime supporter of legalizing gambling in Georgia, opined to the Capitol Beat News Service. “Let the people decide: Do we want to gamble or do we not? That’s the cleanest way to do it.”
Georgia is one of only six states that does not have commercial or tribal casinos, nor legal sports betting. The others are Hawaii, Kentucky, South Carolina, Utah, and Vermont.
Industry Licking Chops
Georgia has the attention of the nation’s preeminent gaming operators. Notable companies ready to pounce on Georgia should the state welcome their business operations include Las Vegas Sands, Caesars Entertainment, Hard Rock International, Wynn Resorts, and Bally’s Corporation.
Georgia’s Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission reports that there were 34 registered paid lobbyists working on behalf of gaming interests during the 2021 legislative session. With no casinos in Georgia, Peach Street license plates are commonly found in casino parking lots in neighboring Florida, Alabama, and North Carolina.
Paired with the country’s largest airport — Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International — and the nation’s eighth-largest population, Georgia is a deeply attractive market for casino operators.
2020 wasn’t an entire defeat for gaming advocates. The state Senate in March passed a statute that called for a ballot referendum question asking voters if they wished to amend the state constitution to legalize sports betting. While the measure stalled in the House, it marked the first time a gambling measure passed either chamber in state history.
Devil Go Down to Georgia?
Georgia is a deeply religious and largely conservative state. Gambling, often derogatorily referred to as a “sin industry,” faces much opposition from faith-based organizations.
Georgia Republicans have held the governor’s office and controlled the state Senate and House for more than 15 years.
However, advocates for legalizing gambling say such entertainment would only better life in the state.
The Georgia Lottery, the lone legal gambling format in the state, has benefited education to the tune of more than $23 billion in its 29-year history. Proceeds from the lottery are used to provide tuition grants to undergraduate college students at Georgia colleges, universities, and technical schools. The lottery also supports the Georgia Prekindergarten Program that is available to all resident children.
Casino legislation, backers say, could further help students with scholarship assistance.
“I don’t think today anyone can say the Georgia Lottery has been bad for the state,” said Rep. Billy Mitchell, (D-Stone Mountain).
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