Georgia lawmakers indicate optimism over movement on sports betting

January 5, 2023 Georgia State Flag - Casino Genie

The question of sports betting in the Peach State of Georgia has divided opinion for some time, and been an issue of interest in recent political races. At the present time, there is no provision for sports or casino betting in the state, and last autumn’s gubernatorial race pitched anti-betting incumbent Brian Kemp against Stacey Abrams, who favored the adoption of legal betting to fund education in the state. When Kemp won, it was seen as a rebuke to the support of sports betting. However, the awarding of influential positions in Congress to some supporters of gambling may open the way for initial movement in a positive direction.

The House Economic Development and Tourism Committee is now chaired by Ron Stephens, who has previously made the case for legal betting in the state given that many Georgians already bet out-of-state and at Antigua-based bookmakers. The influential role of Lieutenant Governor, meanwhile, will be filled for this congressional session by Burt Jones, who has previously sponsored pro-betting bills in the legislature. Jones has already appointed Senator Brandon Beach, a fellow supporter of betting, to the Assignments Committee, which will also have influence over whether any bill is picked up.

The chairmanship of Stephens on the aforementioned committee is of particular interest given a moment of political theater he presented in 2021. During a hearing on sports betting legislation. Stephens suggested that he would file a bill to end all betting in the state. Such a bill, had it been successful, would have made the state lottery illegal and in one fell swoop ended the Hope scholarship program, which plays a huge part in funding education in Georgia. No such bill existed outside of the hypothetical presented by Stephens; he wanted to make the point that preventing betting in the state was denying revenue to worthy causes.

Along with the increased pro-gambling alignment in the state legislature, there are other reasons to look out for fresh legislation in the state this year. The polling data points to at least qualified support for making sports betting legal and even stronger support for casino gambling. As Stephens made the point in 2021, any lawmaker voting to end all gambling would have been ejected from congress at the next election by furious voters. The same lawmakers will certainly have to consider their position if a bill to legalize betting comes before congress; it would be a bill with strong support among voters.

None of this means that Georgia will adopt sports betting in the coming year. Even if a bill were to pass congress, it would then need to be voted on by the Georgian public, and such a vote could take place in 2024 at the soonest. It could, however, mean that much of the process for making betting available within the state could be completed ahead of such a vote, allowing for quick movement in the event of a Yes vote in any such referendum. There are many hurdles to clear before that point, of course, but it does feel like the needle has moved some way towards legal betting in the state in the foreseeable future.

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