State Rep. Ron Stephens said it is about time that new forms of gambling are allowed in the state of Georgia. Stephens is also a Savannah Republican and the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee chairman.
Stephens has been calling for the expansion of gambling in Georgia since early in 2021 but so far unsuccessfully. Now, the earliest Georgians could vote to expand gambling in the state – if ever given a chance – would be 2024.
Time to ‘shake up’ Georgia’s sports betting legislature
Stephens recently said he has never been more confident the legislature will vote in the session that begins in January to have a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2024.
Stephens recently told the News From The States:
“We walk away from $100 million every year in sports gambling, and other states, and places like Antigua, get that money from people here in Georgia. “Let’s regulate it, tax it, and put the money in Hope and pre-K.”
In 2022, a bill passed out of the Senate and survived a vote in one House committee but did not make it through the House Rules Committee.
According to Stephens, part of the reason for his optimism stems from his 2021 call for his colleagues to sign a resolution to ban all forms of gambling in Georgia. As Stephens explained:
“Not a single person came up. If anyone did sign it, it would have been their political death wish. They would have been booted out of office with both feet.”
However, differences in the form and scope of Georgia’s gambling expansion have resulted in the failure of all such measures proposed since then.
Gambling legislation could find more supporters in the state Senate
Gambling legislation in Georgia could find a friendlier audience in the state Senate this year.
A Jackson Republican, Lt. Gov.-elect Burt Jones, sponsored sports betting bills as a state senator in the chamber that he will soon preside over. He appointed an Alpharetta Republican, state Sen. Brandon Beach to serve on the Senate’s influential Committee on Assignments.
Stephens emphasized gaming legislation will require two bills before Georgia voters would have the final say:
- The first bill would require a constitutional amendment to allow sports gambling, horse racing, and casinos
- The second would lay out exactly how the revenue will be spent
Stephens said it would be up to local governments to regulate whether they want to have horse racing enterprises and resorts, which usually feature casinos.
A Decatur Democrat, State Sen. Elena Parent, said many people across the state already participate in sports betting. Legalizing it, she said, would allow the state to collect tax dollars and “see a reciprocal benefit.”
In her run for governor, Stacey Abrams also supported legalized sports betting in Georgia to pay for the rising costs of education.
Opponents fear legalization would increase addiction and other social ills
Georgia casino opponents insist it is “one more regressive tax on poorer Georgians,” who play the games to relieve endemic poverty.
Opponents also fear growing the gambling industry beyond the Georgia Lottery would invite addiction and other social issues.
The Georgia Baptist Convention states that racetracks in Georgia will eventually give way to slot machines and gaming tables inside the racetrack. They believe gambling addiction will soon follow.
Stephens claims rural Georgia would benefit from the horse racing industry
Stephens strongly believes rural Georgia would benefit greatly from a robust equine industry. He said the business of horses would boost job growth lagging in urban areas of the state.
Thoroughbred sales in Florida annually are about $156 million, according to a 2017 study by Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association.
According to the trade group, there are 100,000 thoroughbreds in the state, and the direct industry impact is $1.5 billion. The industry says there are 23,000 jobs related to thoroughbred racing in the state.
These jobs include:
- hot walkers
- fence installers
- barn painters
- leather smiths
- feed and hay dealers
- tack repair
- horse transport trucks
- maintenance workers
As Stephens said:
“The equine industry fits so well with the governor’s initiative of workforce development. That’s his big deal coming up this entire term. The unemployment rate in rural Georgia is not very good, even though the state is in full employment.”
“We’ve got folks that would like to stay in their hometowns, but there’s no industry there to support them.”
Numbers are optimistic
In 2020, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) found that 58% of respondents favored legalizing sports betting.
Likewise, the School of Public and International Affairs Survey Research Center at the University of Georgia conducted similar results last year. More precisely, on the question of casino gambling in Georgia:
- 59.7% supported
- 29.1% opposed
- 11.3% answered “don’t know.”
The American Gaming Association estimated that Georgia could generate $6.5 billion annually with a statewide mobile and online market.