Georgia’s state constitution specifically bars gambling, and Peach Tree lawmakers have been opposed to amending it, blocking multiple attempts to bring sports betting to the state.
But the ice may be thawing.
House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican, wields considerable power. During a pre-session gaggle with reporters this week, he opened the door to a gambling referendum.
“Maybe it’s time that we asked the question of Georgians whether they want to expand gaming, and if they say yes, then we sit down and decide what form it will take, whether it’s going to be sports betting, whether you do horses or destination resorts.”
The Georgia General Assembly begins its 2022 session next week. Republicans control both chambers and the governor’s mansion. But 2022 is an election year, so there is speculation much of the effort will be targeted toward motivating voters in the fall.
Ralston’s proposal would ask voters if they want to expand gambling opportunities in the state, but it does not mention any specific type – including sports betting. Should voters pass the referendum, lawmakers would then be charged with setting the framework.
“We’ve tripped over the details of this thing for years,” Ralston said, according to the Rockdale-Newton Citizen, a local news outlet. “Maybe we should just ask Georgians whether they want to allow gaming and, if so, move forward with the details.”
If those details included sports betting, it would likely be 2023 at the earliest for when University of Georgia fans or Atlanta Braves supporters could bet on their favorite teams.
Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican who faces a stiff challenge from a Trump-backed candidate later this year, is opposed to gambling expansion, but said his opinion is not consequential.
”It doesn’t matter what I think if [voters] pass a constitutional amendment,” Kemp said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Past Attempts At Sports Betting Have Failed
The 2021 legislation appeared primed for passage. A key House committee passed a bill, the Georgia Lottery Mobile Sports Wagering Integrity Act, which would have authorized the Georgia Lottery to create up to six licenses for sports betting.
In order for Republicans to pass sports betting, they need Democratic support to overcome conservative concerns about the morality of gambling. Democrats balked at supporting the measure as a way to protest voting-right legislation.