Georgian lawmakers set to revive debate on legalization of gambling

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ATLANTA – As the General Assembly prepares for the once-a-decade redesign next month’s maps of Georgia’s legislative districts and Congress, lawmakers will also soon be renewing a much more frequent debate on the legalization of gambling. money.

This story also appeared in Capitol Beat News Service

Bills that could lead to casinos, mutual horse racing betting and / or sports betting in the state of Peach will be on the table during the 2022 legislative session in January for the second year of a two-year term.

Proposals to legalize gambling in Georgia in one form or another have popped up virtually every year over the past decade, with most bills devoting a portion of the proceeds to the ever-popular HOPE scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs. . But after years of failure, the effort gained momentum during the 2021 session.

The state Senate passed a constitutional amendment last March calling for a statewide referendum to legalize sports betting. While Senate Resolution 135 did not reach the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives, it was the first time that a gambling bill had passed through either chamber. legislative.

“It looks more encouraging than ever,” said State Representative Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, a longtime supporter of legalizing gambling in Georgia.

Online betting vs casino jobs

Sports betting is a relatively recent player in the debate on the legalization of gambling. States other than Nevada were not allowed to legalize sports betting until a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a New Jersey case.

Since that decision opened the country, 26 states have launched sports betting, according to the American Gaming Association. Five other states have passed sports betting legislation that has yet to come into force.

Georgia’s sports betting law is modeled on a Tennessee law, which only allows online betting.

A coalition of professional Atlanta sports teams – including the Braves, Falcons, Hawks and Atlanta United – is supporting the idea. They want to use sports betting to generate fan engagement, said Representative Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, another supporter of legalized gambling.

“They want people sitting in stadiums to bet on their phones,” he said.

But Powell isn’t in favor of legalizing sports betting in isolation. App-based sports betting would not increase the revenue the state could earn from physical casinos, he said.

“There are no jobs being created,” said Powell. “There is a right and a wrong way to do this. “

Stephens agrees. While he introduced a stand-alone sports betting bill during this year’s legislative session, he is now in favor of combining sports betting, casinos and horse racing into a single constitutional amendment for submission. to Georgian voters.

“Let the people decide: do we want to play or not? Said Stephens. “It’s the cleanest way to do it. “

Lobbyists rush to push gambling interests

Indeed, the casino industry relies heavily on Georgia. At least 32 paid lobbyists are working for the passage of legalized gambling in Georgia, according to reports filed with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission.

These lobbyists were hired by 10 mostly high-profile game companies, including Caesars Entertainment, Hard Rock, Wynn Resorts and Bally’s.

They and other casino supporters portray Georgia’s lack of legalized gambling as millions of dollars in tax revenue and billions of dollars in lost economic impact to neighboring states.

Rick Lackey, an Atlanta-based real estate developer behind several proposed casino complexes scattered across Georgia, points to the growth of casino projects in the Southeast.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in Cherokee, NC, has just opened a $ 330 million expansion that includes a new 725-room hotel and convention center. A new casino off Interstate 85 in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, which just opened in July, is already planning to double its gaming machines to 1,000.

Alabama has three Indian casinos. And the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa generates more revenue than all of the casinos in Mississippi combined, Lackey said.

“If you go to one of these casinos, you will see a lot of Georgian license plates,” he said.

Supporters of legalizing gambling in Georgia also report numerous polls showing the idea is popular with voters.

The amendment requires 2/3 of the votes

But hurdles to gambling laws remain, including the hard-to-overcome majorities of two-thirds of the state House and Senate needed to pass a constitutional amendment.

Faith groups oppose the legalization of gambling as a threat to families and a magnet for crime. Religious organizations have traditionally wielded great influence under the Gold Dome, particularly with lawmakers representing districts of rural Georgia.

Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said he heard the same arguments in the 1990s before Georgia established a state lottery and dedicated a portion of the proceeds to the new HOPE program.

“I don’t think anyone today can say the Georgia Lottery has been bad for the state,” he said.

Stephens said that legalizing gambling today offers the same opportunity to increase funding for education that convinced lawmakers to support the lottery almost 30 years ago.

“Some of the people who vote ‘no’ on this will vote against $ 100 million [a year] for HOPE and pre-K, ”he said. “He doesn’t think they want to do this.”

This story is available through a partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.


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