Veteran Georgia Lawmakers Say 2021 Year When Peach State Bets on Gambling

Posted on: December 10, 2020, 09:00h. 

Last updated on: December 10, 2020, 12:06h.

Veteran Georgia lawmaker Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) says the odds are good that 2021 will be the year the Peach State moves forward with legalizing commercial gambling.

Georgia casino gambling legal
Some lawmakers in the Georgia capital of Atlanta, seen here, are becoming increasingly optimistic regarding the legalization of gambling. (Image: Shutterstock)

Georgia is one of just six states that presently does not have a tribal or commercial casino, nor pari-mutuel wagering.

Stephens has advocated for years on the benefits of legalized and regulated commercial gambling. With COVID-19 devastating Georgia’s economy and lessening tax revenue for the state, he believes 2021 might finally be the year adequate support for gaming in the Atlanta capital is realized.

If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen in this next session,” Stephens opined to the Savannah Morning News. “The people want it. Opinion polls, and more importantly, public hearings, show that. It’s time the legislature gives Georgians that opportunity.”

Stephens chairs the Georgia House Economic Development and Tourism Committee, which handles any proposed measure in the gaming industry. The Georgia General Assembly begins its 2021 session on January 11.

Power of the People

Stephens’ claims that opinion polls and public hearings show that Georgians support ending gaming prohibition would need to be put to the test for a casino to come to the state.

The Georgia Constitution bans gambling, meaning a measure to amend the state’s legal framework would require a ballot referendum. That process can begin in either the House or Senate. A proposed amendment requires two-thirds support in each chamber and the governor’s signature before the issue goes before voters.

Constitutional amendment referendums can only be held during even years, meaning the earliest Georgians could face the question is in November of 2022. A simple majority backing from voters amends the Georgia Constitution.

Stephens isn’t the only veteran lawmaker who says now is the time to bring Georgia casinos. Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) is in the same boat.

“[Gaming] requires heavy lifting, and heavy lifting always requires bipartisanship,” Smyre said. “I think we have that muscle right now.”

  • A slew of gaming issues would need to be ironed out by Georgia lawmakers. A few include:
  • What sort of gambling is being legalized?
  • Will racetracks be permitted to incorporate slot machines, table games, and sportsbooks into their facilities?
  • What programs will tax money generated by gaming benefit?
  • Will online gaming and mobile sports betting be included?

Sports Betting First

While gaming expansion requires a constitutional amendment, Stephens believes there’s a loophole to bring legal sports betting to Georgia in an expedited manner.

New games can be added to the Georgia Lottery without a ballot referendum. Stephens says sports betting could be allocated to be operated through the Georgia Lottery. It’s a similar regulatory structure used in West Virginia, where that state’s lottery issues sports betting licenses to qualified bookmakers and oversees their operations.

Not everyone in the Georgia capital shares Stephens’ sports betting viewpoint.

Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) says sports betting on its own would also require a constitutional amendment. “The people need to agree to expanded forms [of gambling],” he said.