2022 Gubernatorial Races & Gambling: Where The Issue Stands In The South

Written By Derek Helling on May 10, 2022 - Last Updated on June 30, 2022
Residents of over 70% of the United States will vote in 2022 gubernatorial elections

This fall, residents of over 70% of the United States will vote in 2022 gubernatorial elections. Those races will have a great impact on many affairs in the respective states. Among those affairs is gambling.

In 36 states, the incumbent governors’ terms are about to run out. Not all 36 of the races could have a similar impact on gambling in those states, though. There are still a few where the voters’ choices for the next governor could have a great impact.

This is the first of a four-part series that will look at the most important of those races for the future of gambling in the US.

Five southern states are either currently considering significant gaming expansion or have looked at it in their most recent legislative sessions. All five of them also have incumbent Republican governors running for another term in these 2022 gubernatorial elections.

2022 elections for governor in the southeast

The public stances that the incumbent governors from three southeastern states have taken on gambling during their time in office have varied somewhat. All three of them have avoided the perception of being a proponent of gaming, though.

At the same time, all three have not proven roadblocks to gambling expansion yet. Whether they could do that in the future will depend not only on whether they get re-elected but also on how the corresponding legislatures act on this issue.

Alabama

The incumbent: Current Gov. Kay Ivey is seeking re-election to her second term this year. While she is a staunch conservative on many issues, she doesn’t fit into that mold when it comes to gambling. Ivey commissioned a study on the effects of a gambling expansion in Alabama in 2020. She also expressed regret that voters in her state won’t get a chance to decide the issue on the ballot this fall.

The challengers: Ivey is currently facing a field of Republican primary opponents. Among them are candidates who share Ivey’s position that the state’s voters should decide the issue. Also in the crowd are more hard-line conservatives like Tim James. In January, James called the prospect of brick-and-mortar casinos in the state something that would turn Alabama’s cities into “models of decay.”

What’s at stake in the race? During the last session, the legislature came as close as it has yet to actually putting a gambling question on the ballot for voters. Currently, the only way to gamble legally in Alabama is to play charity bingo games inside a few halls in the state.

Actually, a change in the governor’s mansion might not affect this issue so heavily. The process of amending the state’s constitution, which is necessary to expand gambling, doesn’t involve the governor at all.

With that being said, a staunchly anti-gambling candidate like James replacing Ivey would do nothing to help sway more legislators to vote for a similar proposal in 2023. The fact remains that such a governor could only try to sway minds their way. In this matter, they would have no veto power if the legislature acts.

Georgia

The incumbent: Gov. Brian Kemp is another Republican who will face a primary in seeking a second term. Similar but not exactly identical to Ivey in Alabama, Kemp has said that he thinks the state’s voters should decide whether to expand gambling in Georgia. Kemp has been more adamant that he is personally opposed to gambling expansion, however.

The challengers: In addition to a few high-profile challengers for the Republican nomination, Kemp will face a serious threat from a Democratic challenger should he get to the general election. Among his primary challengers is former Georgia US senator David Perdue. The presumptive Democratic nominee is Stacey Abrams, who is currently unopposed on her party’s side.

So far, primary challengers like Perdue have been quiet on the gambling issue. In a recent debate, for example, the issue never came up. As far as Abrams goes, she has also avoided the issue so far. However, in her past role as the Georgia House of Representatives Minority Leader, she said she was open to more gambling in the state on the condition of the tax revenue going to fund education.

What’s at stake in the race? This is another state that made an effort to expand gambling this year but fell short. Right now, legal gambling essentially revolves around the Georgia Lottery and some coin-operated amusement machines.

Akin to Alabama, though, the constitutional amendment path seems to be the legislature’s favorite so far. Again, that would sidestep the governor altogether. Thus, while none of the serious candidates seem to have a serious aversion, it might not matter even if they did.

South Carolina

The incumbent: Gov. Henry McMaster is seeking his second full term this fall, again starting with a Republican primary. While McMaster hasn’t spoken on the issue publicly in years, in the campaign to win his first full term, he came as out as opposed to gambling expansion.

The challengers: While McMaster technically will face a primary, he is the presumptive nominee. The field for his challenger in the general election appears more competitive. Among those Democrats is Joe Cunningham, who has publicly supported legalizing sports betting in South Carolina.

What’s at stake in the race? The state legislature is currently considering a bipartisan proposal to legalize sports betting in South Carolina. This is the second such bill to surface during McMaster’s first full term. Obviously, if Cunningham were to become governor, it would be an ideal situation for that resolution.

While McMaster might seem inclined to veto such a bill on his past history, that was four years ago. South Carolinians will have to see if he has changed his stance on the issue over the past four years as he campaigns in 2022.

2022 elections for governor in the south

As border states are a theme here, two more states in the southern part of the country have pertinent upcoming elections. In both of these states, the ramifications of certain outcomes of these 2022 gubernatorial elections seem quite clear.

Candidates and incumbents here have been outspoken on the issue of gambling in the recent past. Gambling companies in both of these states have involved themselves in these races as well.

Oklahoma

The incumbent: Over his term, Gov. Kevin Stitt has had a tumultuous relationship with tribal casino operators in Oklahoma. He has tried to use the possibility of allowing commercial casino operators into the state to try to negotiate more favorable compact terms.

Stitt has also sued tribal casinos in the state, arguing their offering of certain table games and video poker violated the existing compact terms. He is running for election to a second term but so far has not made gaming in Oklahoma a campaign issue.

The challengers: Stitt is facing three challengers for the Republican nomination next month. So far, none of them have taken any kind of public stance on gambling issues. That isn’t the case among the two Democratic primary candidates, though.

Joy Hofmeister has received campaign donations and endorsements from tribal casino operators and vendors who service them. The state’s current superintendent of public instruction switched parties in October to run for governor. Constance Johnson, the other Democratic candidate, has no such public ties to the gaming industry.

Thus far, neither Hofmeister nor Johnson has made gambling an issue in their race. Whether they would do so in the general election is uncertain. Given Stitt’s charged dealings with tribal casinos, it’s a definite possibility.

What’s at stake in the race? Another term for Stitt could mean further strained relations between the state and tribal casino operators. Whether Stitt would be able to make good on his threat of opening the state up to commercial interests is murky at best, though.

Earlier this year, legislators in Oklahoma considered legislation that would have added retail sports betting to the menu for tribal casinos in the state. It did not gain much support, though. That suggests the legislature might not be keen to allow commercial casinos in the state, either.

Hofmeister seems to be Oklahoma tribal casinos’ preferred candidate. If she wins, that could mean more favorable terms for compact negotiations and a continued monopoly on gambling in the state for them. Any other candidate prevailing in this race would be more of a wild card situation.

Texas

The incumbent: Having already prevailed by a large margin in the Republican primary, Greg Abbott is set on winning re-election in November. While Abbott has positioned himself as a hardline conservative on several issues, gambling has not been among them.

Abbott has accepted campaign donations from many titans of the casino industry. The late Sheldon Adelson‘s Las Vegas Sands Co. kicked half a million toward his election campaign in 2020. Golden Nugget Entertainment founder Tillman Fertitta has also been among major Abbott donors in the past.

Abbott even supported a push to legalize sports betting in the state in 2021. At the same time, though, Abbott has opposed the construction of a tribal casino near Livingston. He wrote a letter opposing a federal bill that would have established the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe‘s sovereignty over gaming rights on a plot in that area in 2019.

The challengers: Beto O’Rourke similarly handily won the Democratic nomination in the state. He stated he is “inclined to support” gambling expansion in the form of in-person casino gaming and sports betting in Texas. Thus, O’Rourke could be the superior candidate for those who would like to see casinos in Texas someday.

What’s at stake in the race? Abbott doesn’t seem opposed to casinos in Texas as a rule. It merely seems that he wants to control the process of such gambling expansion. O’Rourke hasn’t made the topic of a gambling expansion in Texas a campaign issue.

Rather, he’s merely stated he thinks the issue deserves a closer look. Neither candidate appears opposed to the legalization of sports betting in the state. At the same time, though, neither may actually press for such a change.

As the state constitution would need an amendment to expand gambling in any way, either Abbott or O’Rourke could have a passive role. What actually seems more important is another concurrent race.

Dan Patrick is also running for re-election as the state’s lieutenant governor. In Texas, the lieutenant governor serves as the president of the state’s senate. Patrick has been staunchly opposed to gambling expansion. Should he continue in the office, that could be a significant obstacle for any gaming legislation.

As these 2022 gubernatorial elections continue, voters will get a better idea of what the main issues are. Regardless of whether the candidates make gambling a point or not, they will have some influence on gaming in these southern states if they win.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including legislation and litigation in the gaming industry. He enjoys reading hundreds of pages of a gambling bill or lawsuit for his audience. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa.

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