Responsible gambling was the focus of a Thursday afternoon committee hearing in the Georgia Senate. Sen. Bill Cowsert hopes his legislation (SR 140 and SB 172), which would enable a constitutional amendment giving voters a choice to legalize sports betting in Georgia, can be a leader in the responsible betting space.
Discussion on the legislation included a few comments from those with moral objections to gambling.
“One argument that I hear quite frequently in favor of this legislation is, ‘Well, it’s already happening in our state, so we might as well get the revenue from it,’” said Mack Parnell, executive director for the Georgia Faith and Freedom Coalition. “I would say there are a lot of things that are happening in our state, but that doesn’t mean the state should embrace it. … Fentanyl, for example: Just because that’s happening in our state and devastating communities doesn’t mean the state should embrace it.”
A blessing working with these men yesterday in standing against the expansion of gambling in Ga. Most of us were able to testify against Sports Betting legislation in the Sen Regulated Industries Committee hearing. @CoryLawrenceGA, Prof. John Kindt, @LesBernal & @PaulSmithGA. pic.twitter.com/JODZmMetOF
— Michael R. Griffin (@mikegriffinsr) February 24, 2023
Responsible gambling experts weigh in
The bill faces significant potential roadblocks because it requires a constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting, which means a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate is needed to put the measure in front of voters in 2024. Two other bills hope to legalize wagering in the state without a constitutional amendment, but those pieces of legislation don’t include the same level of responsible gambling measures.
“There are several bills that are being discussed in both chambers around the legalization of sports wagering,” testified Brianne Doura-Schawohl, a national responsible gambling consultant. “It is quite contradictory to say that your bill is responsible in addressing problem gambling adequately if funding is absent. Your bill, sir, is the only one with any funding mechanism to address this important public health issue.”
Cowsert’s bill allocates 15% of wagering tax revenue to public health and educational services related to responsible gambling measures. The legislator also hopes to limit bettors to depositing no more than $2,000 per month into betting accounts, a unique policy proposal.
James Whelan, the director of the University of Memphis Gambling Clinic, spoke about the importance of creating responsible gambling measures and offering resources to those with gambling problems. He suggested that preventing gambling altogether is impossible, but there are ways to help the select individuals dealing with problems while also reducing potential harms in the industry.
“The idea of stopping gambling is like putting up a fence after everything has left the yard,” Whelan said.
Cowsert also brought in Mark Vander Linden, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s director of research and responsible gaming, to speak about how retail sportsbooks went live there in January and mobile sportsbooks will launch next month.
Les Bernal, the national director of Stop Predatory Gambling, spoke intensely against the bill, contending that mobile sports betting operators target losing bettors and limit profitable bettors.
“It’s a big con,” Bernal said.
Bernal also asserted that sports betting is just a way for operators to eventually introduce online casinos across the U.S.
At the end of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee meeting, SR 140 passed through committee. The enabling legislation, SB 172, is expected to be discussed by the committee Tuesday.
SB 57 is awaiting action from the Senate Rules Committee, which should lead to a vote on the Senate floor. The exact timing of when that might occur is unclear, but the state’s legislative session concludes at the end of March. SB 57 would legalize fixed-odds wagering on horse racing in addition to sports betting, without requiring a constitutional amendment.
HB 380 remains in the House Higher Education Committee, where it was discussed earlier this week. It’s expected to be discussed more in that committee in the near future. Like SB 57, HB 380 doesn’t require a constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting.