Sports betting is usually a bipartisan issue. States that are friendly to gambling are happy to add a new type of gambling. It adds revenue, defunds bookies and offshore sportsbooks, and gives states a way to identify problem gamblers. Democrats and Republicans can both sell sports betting to their key voting blocs.
However, Republicans can have a harder job pitching sports betting to their voters. Democrats usually only have to overcome concerns about minors using sportsbooks illegally. But in addition to that concern, Republicans have to please two blocs of voters:
- Social conservatives
- Religious conservatives
There’s a lot of overlap between these two, but they’re a little different. (Voters found non-religious reasons to oppose gambling, gay marriage, and other social issues, too.) Republicans can’t risk alienating these groups completely if they want to be reelected. Especially in a state like Georgia where Democrats have made large gains at the ballot box. However, Republicans who can afford to vote on sports betting can emphasize sports betting’s economic benefits. They can also count on Democratic support to pass sports betting bills. With enough support in both chambers and the Governor’s office, sports betting bills can easily pass.
But Democrats are withholding their votes on Georgia’s sports betting bill. They’re using what leverage they have to protest against a recent group of Republican bills that exacerbate a long-running problem in Georgia: voter suppression.
Voter Suppression In Georgia
While voter suppression isn’t unique to Georgia, it’s one of the most urgent issues in the state. It received national attention after Stacey Abram’s close defeat to Brian Kemp. Between Abram’s claims that voter suppression cost her the election and the prospect of her historic governorship, Georgia retains its bad reputation for voter suppression.
Recent Republican bills have cemented that bad reputation. In the wake of former-President Trump’s false voter fraud claims, Georgia Republicans are ramping up on what they view as voter security measures. (Coincidentally, it’s an excellent euphemism for voter suppression.) However, the bills introduce policies that would make it harder for many Georgians to vote–especially Democratic black voters. Some of these proposals include:
- Limiting early voting
- Requiring photo ID’s for absentee voting
- Restricting who can vote absentee
- Banning ballot drop boxes
And those were just the ones briefly listed by AP News.
None of these policies have been shown to make voting unsafe. However, each makes it harder to vote. Any one of these passing would be bad for Georgians who favor representative democracy. (It would be bad for the rest of us too–effective voter suppression policies spread. Several have.) Democrats don’t have the power to pass their own voting laws. Republicans control Georgia’s House of Representatives, Senate, and Governor’s office. So, Democrats have to fall back on blocking legislation that Republicans can’t unite their caucuses or their bases around.
In this case, sports betting.
Georgia’s Sports Betting Battleground
Not every Republican state struggles to legalize sports betting. Indiana Republicans made their sports betting bill their own with low tax rates and business-centric policies. But southern states have a larger share of conservatives who oppose gambling on first principles. Religious conservatives point to biblical passages condemning gambling. Social conservatives are often put off by gambling’s shady reputation and the idea of earning free money. (Beliefs critical of gambling often hearken back to a time when wealth was viewed as immoral. That belief came from viewing the economy as a fixed pie instead of an ever-expanding one.)
Southern Republicans can lean into their business-friendly reputations and dive into job-creation rhetoric. However, constituents and fellow lawmakers will oppose gambling, sin taxes, and their variations.
So, this is the perfect opportunity for Georgia Democrats to flex some muscle. Business-driven Republicans would normally count on Democrat votes to fill the gap presented by dissenting religious and social conservatives. But keeping sports betting off the books in Georgia deprives Republicans of a big win.
Why Passing Sports Betting Is A Win
The representative that gets their sports betting bill passed gets to take credit for:
- Creating a (usually) successful new industry
- Generating new revenue for the state
- Bringing new jobs to the state
These are all major accomplishments that any elected official would want on their resume. Since it’s a largely non-partisan issue, representatives from either side of the aisle can score a win from a strong sports betting bill.
That gives Democrats a formidable hand in the House. Representative Ron Stephens may feel the pressure of these withheld votes. However, the bills Democrats are protesting are important to Georgia Republicans. Donald Trump still has a powerful influence in the Republican Party. His lies about voter fraud will continue to inspire action across the country. That all but ensures the standoff in the Georgia House will continue, whether the House version or Senate version of the sports betting bill crosses their desks.
How Georgia’s Standoff Could End
There are a few ways that Democrats could vote on a sports betting bill. One of the cosponsors of the Senate sports betting bill is a Democrat, after all. First, Republicans could accede to Democrats’ demands to stop introducing bills that impede ballot access. That’s not going to happen. Georgia Republicans aren’t going to respond to Georgia’s blue wave by backing down.
Or Democrats could just win the 2022 midterms. (That’s right. The midterms are already on everybody’s radar.)
In the meantime, voters can expect Georgia Democrats to commit to this blockade strategy. Voter suppression disproportionately affects Democratic voters, and Georgia Democrats won’t let their voters go. They certainly won’t after delivering 16 electoral college votes to Joe Biden and clinching two unlikely Senate seats. After a string of victories, Georgia Democrats will fight to protect those gains.
But Republicans opposed to legalizing sports betting may come around if it means making the Democrats look weak. It wouldn’t be the first time religious and social conservatives sacrificed some of their principles to secure Republican power. (Although, social conservatives have felt jerked around by the GOP over the past four to five years.) Georgia Republicans could force sports betting through the house just to throw a middle finger at Georgia Democrats.
However Georgia’s sports betting stalemate ends, sports betting legalization will be a secondary achievement. The bigger story will be the deal that broke the stalemate or the election that resolved the conflict. Georgia remains a battleground for ballot access, shaping every other issue around it. We’ll continue to watch the sports betting battle in Georgia. But bettors who want to know whether sports betting is coming to Georgia will have to keep tabs on the voter suppression fight.