Sports betting in Georgia died an ugly death earlier this year when the Legislature adjourned without agreeing to a proposal to establish a statewide referendum in November 2022 on the issue.
But supporters remain optimistic things could be different next time.
“It looks more encouraging than ever,” state Rep. Ron Stephens, (R), told Savannahnow.com, in an interview published this week.
Stephens, who represents Savannah, sponsored Georgia House Bill 86 during the 2021 legislative session which would have legalized sports betting in the state. It passed out of committee but never made it to the House floor.
He has argued in the past that money being spent at casinos elsewhere should be spent at home.
Georgia lawmakers were poised to pass a November 2022 statewide referendum greenlighting sports betting as a stand-alone proposal, but Democrats withheld their support because of concerns with how majority Republicans were pursuing changes to the state’s voter registration laws.
Georgia Sports Betting Not The Only Issue On The Table
Georgia’s professional sports teams, including the Atlanta Braves (MLB) and the Atlanta Falcons (NFL), support expanding sports betting in the state.
Unlike his arguments in the past in support of sports betting as a stand-alone venture, Stephens told the online news outlet he now supports putting a referendum to voters that would expand sports betting, casinos, and racinos all at once.
“Let the people decide. Do went want to gamble or do we not,” he said. “That’s the cleanest way to do it.”
This may help make sports betting a reality because it will appeal to others who have concerns with simply an online-only format.
“There are no jobs created,” state Rep. Alan Powell (R) also told the publication, referring to only mobile sportsbooks without retail establishments. “There’s a right way and a wrong way to do this.”
Nearby States Host Gambling, Drawing Georgia Bettors
Florida is set to begin taking sports bets as soon as the Hard Rock Casinos get the kiosks set up. The Seminole Tribe said recently they expected bets to begin in November, but it could happen sooner. Many expect the expansion of sports betting in the Sunshine State to be a draw for even more tourists from the north.
While South Carolina and North Carolina do not have sports betting, North Carolina lawmakers have expressed an interest. Lawmakers in the Tar Heel State did propose legislation earlier this year and have not given up hope on seeing it move forward.
Alabama doesn’t have sports betting but it does have casinos that draw tourists Stephens and others would like to see remain home. A little further afield, the first retail sportsbook opened this month in Louisiana and mobile betting apps are expected to launch before the end of the year.
When Could Sports Betting Come to Georgia?
The Legislature has adjourned until January 2022. If Stephens has his way a bill calling for a statewide referendum would pass during the 2022 session, paving the way for a statewide vote in November 2022.
If the referendum passed — a huge if given the strange-bedfellows coalition of Christian conservatives opposed to gambling on moral grounds coupled with progressives who argue gambling disproportionately hurts low income and minority populations — it would take several months for regulations to be formalized. This means the first sports bets likely would not occur until 2023 at the earliest.