Sports betting won’t become legal in Georgia in 2022, an outcome that became evident when the state’s legislative session concluded last week. Another Masters came and went without legal betting in the state, and fans of the defending World Series champions will have to wait at least another year before placing legal in-state wagers on the Braves.
“I suppose it’s mostly disappointing because this is something whose day and time should have come already,” Atlanta Braves CEO Derek Schiller told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Braves were among a contingent of professional sports teams in Atlanta voicing their support for legal sports betting. The teams want the industry regulated, and they believe wagering is an easy way to engage fans on a regular basis. It could take years until sports betting becomes legal in Georgia after this year’s effort fell short, which means many of the same supporters will still be lobbying for a change in the coming years.
Augusta National Golf Club was among the sports enterprises seeking to open the door for legal sports betting during the most recent Georgia General Assembly session. https://t.co/gMpRViT7ao
— Sportico (@Sportico) April 10, 2022
Where did it go wrong this year, after many stakeholders seemed optimistic about legalization in January? Rep. Ron Stephens, who has long championed gaming legislation in the state, felt some politicians had their priorities elsewhere. He said it was challenging to try to get the necessary votes to move sports betting legislation forward.
“Going into a primary, there were a lot of folks who just didn’t have an appetite at all for putting it on the ballot … on both sides, Democrats and Republicans,” Stephens told Sports Handle. “The Christian Coalition, the very same people that lobbied against the lottery 30 years ago, are continuing the effort. They did a pretty good job of getting their message out to folks.”
Between outside anti-gambling influence and political priorities, 2022 just wasn’t the state’s year to legalize sports wagering, but Stephens is still hopeful about the future of legal sports betting in Georgia for a few reasons. Perhaps topping the list is a new election cycle that could usher new faces into the state legislature.
“Their opinions are different than the ones that are leaving, and I believe that we’ll get closer to a constitutional amendment,” Stephens said.
Stephens hopes that legislative turnover with new and younger lawmakers will bring some more open views toward gambling. Those fresh faces may also have a stronger understanding and appreciation for the value of Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship, a program that provides financial assistance for Georgia residents who attend in-state colleges.
Like the Georgia lottery, the state’s proposed sports betting legislation would distribute tax revenue to the scholarship program. According to the lottery website, more than $12 billion of lottery proceeds has been given to the HOPE Scholarship program, which has benefited over 2 million people.
The sports betting bill also planned to distribute tax revenue to mental health and rural healthcare initiatives within the state. Stephens feels that with legal sports betting becoming more prevalent across the country, a majority of state legislators will eventually come around to legalize sports wagering in Georgia and use the tax revenue to benefit state residents.
“It’s changing, and I can see it changing,” Stephens said. “We’re getting closer every time that we talk about it. It’s coming.”