If Georgia lawmakers decide to pursue legal sports betting. they’ll likely have the support of voters. According to results of a state-wide poll published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, 64 percent of voters are in favor of casino gaming, while 57 percent are in favor of legal sports wagering overall. The approval is up 2 percent from a 2016 poll.
“If people want to blow their money, let them. I’m OK with it,” Michael Morris, who works in information technology in Bonaire, told the AJC. “I’m not going to do it, but if someone else does, go for it. I believe there should be no laws written designed to protect a person against themselves.”
Results of the survey were released just a few days after Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan told the Athens News-Banner, “I just haven’t seen that overwhelming support for gambling here in Georgia,” and Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan said gambling is “not one of our priorities.”
Conducted by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs, the poll of 1,025 registered voters spanned Jan. 6-15. Lawmakers need a two-third super majority to get sports betting on the ballot, and then 50 percent of voters would be needed for legalization. Respondents were asked about taxes, seat belts and gaming. On balance, most respondents feel that Georgia’s economy is healthy and do not support any kind of tax increase.
Pro teams support sports betting
Lawmakers in Georgia have been exploring sports betting for the last several years. Last fall, a study committee met to discuss the financial impact of sports betting, and in January the Special Committee on Economic Growth held a hearing at Atlanta Motor Speedway. In addition, the state’s professional sports teams banded together last November to send a letter to lawmakers indicating that they support legal sports betting. The coalition says it supports legal retail and mobile sports betting, though it calls for a college carve out.
Like many other states, Georgia is also experiencing a budget deficit for the first time in recent years. This could be an opening to push a gaming expansion through, as sports betting or casino gaming would provide a new revenue stream, though likely not enough to completely cover shortfalls. No fiscal notes were provided for the two 2019 bills that were filed.
According to the AJC poll, most demographic groups said they would approve a gaming expansion, though the approval dropped with age — 75 percent of those aged 18-29 support casinos in the Peach State, but that number dropped to about 50 percent for those over 65. When comes to economics, casino gaming is popular across the board — while almost 75 percent of respondents who earn $25,000 or less said they’d support legal gaming, 70 percent of those who earn $150,000 or more were also in support. Republican and Democratic responders both support a gaming expansion, and more than 50 percent of those polled, regardless or ethnic background or gender favor legal gaming.
When asked about sports betting in particular, 64 percent of men and 50 percent of women were in support while those those who earn $150,000 or more had the highest support percentage of any socioeconomic group, and more blacks (62 percent) than whites (54 percent) support legal sports betting.
The biggest potential roadblock to an expansion of gaming would be Georgia’s lawmakers. The state legislature is conservative (138 out of a total 234 lawmakers are Republicans), and overall Georgia is a red state.