Despite repeated failed efforts to pass legislation allowing casinos and destination resorts in Georgia, state lawmakers supporting such measures will press on with the effort this year.
In 2017, state senator Brandon Beach (R-District 21) and House Economic Development and Tourism Chairman Ron Stephen (R-Savannah) couldn’t rally the votes for HB 158 or SB 79, respectively. The matching bipartisan bills would have provided for the creation of and “duties of the Georgia Gaming Commission to authorize the licensing of up to two destination resorts” with casinos in the state.
The relevance of this to sports betting, of course, is that in the dozen-plus states seeking or contemplating sports betting legalization, licenses to do so would flow through brick-and-mortar casinos, as in Pennsylvania where such a bill doing so has already passed. The existence of casinos in Georgia would very likely be a necessary precursor to legal sports betting in Georgia.
Georgia Lawmaker Vowed ‘I’ll Be Back’ to Usher In Georgia Casinos And Resorts, With Implications for Sports Betting
Originally Beach called for up to six casinos and racetracks in the state before trimming down the measure to allow for two resorts.
Beach and Stephen still have gaming industry lobbyists at their backs, undeterred by the opposition from religious groups and conservatives, reports Maya Prabhu of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“I am not discouraged,” Beach said in 2017 after a last-ditch effort to rally support got scuttled in 2017. “I will double down and plan to crisscross the state starting in April” to drum up support for the bill in the upcoming 40-day legislative session.
The appeal for Beach and the state of Georgia? Increased funding from a 20% tax to benefit
HOPE scholarships, which is driven now by the Georgia Lottery for Education. Since its inception in 1992, the HOPE (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) program has benefited more than 1.7 million students at state public and private universities and public technical schools, according to the program’s website. Beach’s SB 79 would also support causes including rural trauma care and rural hospitals, broadband Internet infrastructure and law enforcement raises.
Stephens continues to support the push for casinos but has signaled that expectations in 2018 should be tempered, on account of political risk-aversion.
“I’ll try every way in the world to try to get it done,” he told the AJC. “But about half the folks in the Senate are running for something else. Anything that even sounds controversial is going to be a tough sell.”
Other supports and lobbyists have pointed to the fact that Georgians already are gambling via the state lottery, and also visiting neighboring Alabama and North Carolina’s casinos.
Georgian Support for Sports Betting at the Federal Level
At the federal level, Georgia House member Doug Collins (GA-9) has publicly supported sports betting and a review of PASPA, the 1992 federal law banning sports betting outside Nevada with few limited exceptions.
PASPA’s constitutionality is currently under review in the United States Supreme Court in the matter of Christie v NCAA, which represents the culmination of New Jersey’s effort to open up shop for sports betting at Atlantic City casinos and beyond. Collins told ESPN in September 2017:
“The Supreme Court will issue a decision on Christie v. NCAA within months, but the responsibility to write legislation belongs to Congress alone. Historically, when we’ve failed to legislate, the Supreme Court has been all too happy to fill the void. So, legislators have a window to address the issues surrounding PASPA, and, since the House Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over this particular law, I look forward to reviewing it with the Chairman and our colleagues there.”
A decision in Christie v NCAA is expected in the spring, likely in April or May. A Washington Post survey in 2017 found that for the first time, a majority Americans support the legalization of sports betting on professional sports. No hearings on PASPA have yet been scheduled as several representatives in New Jersey and Dina Titus of Nevada have called for them.
In Georgia, support for casinos in January 2017 poll showed a majority of registered voters, 56%, are in favor and 38% opposed. That poll did not gauge support for, or opposition to sports betting.
The forthcoming decision in Christie v NCAA has spurred a flurry of state-level legislative activity and interest in moving along sports betting bills, most recently in Delaware (which does offer legal NFL parlay wagering) and Mississippi.
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