Georgia State Legislators Begin New Gaming Expansion Efforts

December 11, 2023
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Georgia state legislators have said they will take another shot at putting a significant gaming expansion on the ballot for voters to consider in 2024, potentially including both sports betting and land-based casinos.
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Georgia state legislators have said they will take another shot at putting a significant gaming expansion on the ballot for voters to consider in 2024, potentially including both sports betting and land-based casinos.

Republican state Senator Brandon Beach said he will introduce legislation in January to seek a constitutional amendment that would permit the legalization of casinos, retail and mobile sports betting, and pari-mutuel wagering on horse races.

Beach said the amendment would include three resort-style casinos and one or two horseracing tracks in hopes of attracting new tourism and convention business to the state.

“I just think it’s something we have to let the voters decide,” Beach said during a hearing of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Tourism last week. “From the polling we’ve seen, it will pass, we think.”

Representative Ron Stephens, a Republican and the committee’s co-chair who has been the point person in the House on previous sports-betting efforts, spoke only in favor of the sports-betting side of a potential gaming expansion.

“For me it is about giving another game to the lottery to add a minimum of $100m to our HOPE scholarship and pre-K [funding],” Stephens said of two state education funds. “That is all that I will be speaking about today is sports betting.”

Stephens suggested that another possibility is a more all-encompassing ballot question that could also give the voters an opportunity to weigh in on expanding gambling through the Georgia Lottery, as well as new gaming options.

“We’ve never gotten to the point to really ask the voters how they feel, even though we’ve gotten some polling data that’s pretty favorable,” Stephens said. 

“We’ve had some folks that came and said we should have none at all, so maybe that’s an option we put on the ballot question that … you vote yes for continuing gaming through the lottery as the conduit or that we have nothing at all so those folks will have the opportunity to vote no.”

“Now, granted, I believe all the polls say that it would pass overwhelmingly, but of course, everyone understands that nothing at all means [the] HOPE [scholarship] and pre-K [funding] goes away, that’s the issue on the downside.”

Beach said that supporters would work on enacting enabling legislation simultaneously with filing the proposed constitutional amendment, as he believed voters would want to know the details of what their vote would mean.

“This is going to be a heavy lift, because you’re got to have 38 votes in the Senate and 120 in the House, but I think it’s time,” Beach said. “It’s time to let the voters decide, in my opinion, so we’ll get this done, and we will be working on enabling legislation.”

Several attempts to expand gambling have failed in the legislature in recent years, with legislation for sports betting passing in the Senate in 2022 but failing to garner support in the House, then in March of this year a constitutional amendment was voted down in both chambers.

Some of the debate in recent years has centered around whether a constitutional amendment would be required or whether the legislature could pass sports betting with standard legislation that would only require a simple majority in each chamber and the governor’s signature.

In contrast, a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate, as well as voter approval via a referendum in November.

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