Georgia Sen. Carden Summers thinks legislators and lobbyists have complicated Georgia gambling issues in recent years. Lobbyists descend on the capitol building wanting to legalize sports betting, casino and horse wagering.
Some want all three, some want one at a time. Some lawmakers think Georgia can do sports betting without a constitutional amendment, some don’t.
Summers and four Senate colleagues think Georgia needs to take a step back before it can take a step forward. They filed SR 394 this week to “create a Senate Study Committee on the Creation of a Robust Wagering Ecosystem in the State of Georgia.”
Summers explained the need for the study committee to PlayUSA:
“I think we have complicated the gaming issue in Georgia for the last four-to-five years. It’s been way too complicated. I think what we need is a simple study on what the gaming industry will do to Georgia – the harms, the good, the jobs it will bring in and what’s recommended before we move forward. I just want to make sure we quit monkeying around.”
Study would address each Georgia gambling area
The Senate study committee would look into online and retail sports betting, land-based destination resort casinos, pari-mutuel and fixed-odds horse wagering.
Ten Senators would make up the committee:
- President Pro Tempore
- Majority Leader
- Majority Whip
- Economic Development and Tourism Committee chair
- Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee chair
- Four members appointed by the Senate President
- Majority Caucus Chairperson
Sens. Jason Esteves, Bill Cowsert, Lee Anderson and Michael Dugan joined Summers as resolution sponsors. Esteves serves as the Majority Caucus Chairperson. Cowsert, who sponsored a Georgia sports betting bill with constitutional amendment that failed on a Senate floor vote, chairs the Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee.
Summers would hope to get appointed to the committee by the Senate President. His plan is for the committee to meet this summer. The resolution requires at least four public hearings and a final report by Dec. 1.
If the committee concludes that Georgia gambling should move forward, Summers wants to introduce a resolution next year putting a measure on the ballot to ask voters if they want to change the state constitution to allow gambling.
If that vote is successful, Summers said the legislature can come back with that directive to authorize sports betting, casinos and pari-mutuel wagering in 2025.
“Once we change the constitution, we can put what we learn toward crafting the best language. We can’t do anything until we fully understand it. So we’ll do this study commission and put it in a constitutional amendment, and then we can put this issue to bed once and for all.”
Summers supports legalizing Georgia gambling
Summers said he would go into the study committee thinking that all forms of Georgia gambling should be legalized.
“People are gambling right now in Georgia and not paying any taxes. I heard 60,000 people a month are driving out of Georgia to Mississippi or Florida to gamble at casinos. If we’re losing that kind of revenue, I want to know what we can do to capture it responsibly and take care of people who may have an addiction problem.”
He also thinks Georgians would support legalizing gambling if provided the option via ballot measure.
“I have to believe that gaming is coming to Georgia,” Summers said. “I think people in general are to the point where they like it as entertainment.”
Study doesn’t mean Georgia sports betting bill dead
The Senate voted down two Georgia sports betting proposals and the House bill didn’t get a vote before the crossover deadline.
But Sens. Brandon Beach and Derek Mallow revived Georgia sports betting last week by attaching it to HB 237, a bill already passed by the House. Dugan objected to placing sports betting on a bill previously meant to honor a Georgia soap box derby.
Summers said he would support the sports betting bill if it came up for a vote. But he still thinks the study committee leading into a constitutional amendment is the best route.
“I think we can do sports wagering through the lottery. But even if it passed, I think the other side would probably file a lawsuit and tie it up for years. If we do a constitutional amendment, there’s no tying it up in lawsuits. It’s done. So we stop all the cloak and dagger, put it on the table as should be done and let people vote on it.”
With only two Senate session days remaining before the Georgia legislature adjourns Wednesday, the sports betting bill remains as controversial as ever.
“We’re about out of time,” Summers said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with the soap box one becoming a betting bill. The last two days of the session are always the wildest and craziest. Right now there’s hundreds of bills in a hole and we’ve got two more days. Monday and Wednesday is (sic) going to get ugly.”
But Summers thinks the resolution would pass without issue. And, as a Senate resolution, it wouldn’t have to go to the House or governor.