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Georgia Lawmakers Make Push For Expanded Gambling — So What’s The Holdup?

Supporters of casino gambling in Georgia parked a mobile billboard outside the state Capitol in March 2020.
Supporters of casino gambling in Georgia parked a mobile billboard outside the state Capitol in March 2020.
Credit Emil Moffatt / WABE

Since 2018, when a U.S. Supreme Court decision made it possible for any state to legalize sports gambling, nearly half have done so.

“Sports wagering is currently legal in 22 states,” said Republican state Sen. Jeff Mullis. “Around us: Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana … and Florida is taking it up this year as well.”

Mullis estimates that if Georgians were allowed to bet on professional sports through their phones it would bring in $40 million a year for The HOPE Scholarship. His bill has bipartisan support, but it has been slowed by the uncertainty over whether voters would have to approve through a constitutional amendment allowing sports betting under the umbrella of the Georgia Lottery.

“Some say ‘don’t need one’ – some say it would make it cleaner, so the whole debate is all around us,” said Mullis.

The Atlanta Hawks, United, Falcons and Braves have all thrown their support behind legalizing sports betting.

“The Hawks want their fans engaged,” Robert Highsmith, an attorney who represents the Hawks, told lawmakers at a hearing last week. “If the fans are going to bet on a Hawks game, they want them doing it in a legal, cleanly regulated, in-from-the-cold environment.”

Unlike sports betting, horse racing and casino gambling definitely do need voter approval.

Republican Sen. Brandon Beach says horse tracks in Georgia would not only mean dollars from wagers and tourism but also construction jobs and horse farms in rural parts of the state.

“We will create a new industry in Georgia — horse breeding and sales,” said Beach. “That could have an overall annual $1 billion impact from an economic development standpoint.”

Beach’s idea to allow betting on horse races has received a committee hearing, but a proposal for casinos has not.

All of these measures face scrutiny from longtime opponents of expanded gambling in Georgia – who say the cost of addiction will far outweigh the financial benefits.

Mike Griffin with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board dismisses the notion that because the lottery exists, other forms of gambling should be permitted, too.

“Let’s draw a line and say we don’t need any more, that’s all we’re talking about,” said Griffin. “That’s the same way when we deal with alcohol regulations – we’re not here for prohibition. We’re saying let’s continue to make sure public health and safety standards are as high as possible.”