A proposal to legalize sports betting in Georgia seems to be gaining traction at the capitol and could pass this year, according to Rep. Ron Stephens. On Friday, Stephens told WJCL he feels “hopeful” lawmakers will get a bill passed this session to get sports gaming on the ballot.
According to Stephens, who is chairman of the House Economic Development & Tourism Committee, the issue has been in discussions at state level “for years,” reason why he believes the best course of action would be to bring the decision to the public: in the end, it would be up to individual counties whether or not to expand gambling.
Legislation supporters argue that the bill would benefit Georgia from an economic standpoint at a point in which most states in the country have already legalized the market. Sports bettors in the Peach State currently either travel to other states where sports gaming is legal, or gamble with illegal books.
Georgia has been described as a typically conservative state for gambling: the main forms of legal gambling in the Peach State are the state lottery and charitable raffles. The Senate passed a resolution to initiate the process for a constitutional amendment on sports betting last year, but it did not pass the house.
Stephens, a long-time proponent of legalizing sports betting, said he would like to see proceeds from the vertical helping fund educational programs, with the Georgia Lottery in charge of overseeing the market. The state’s four professional sports teams have shown public support for the idea.
“A piece of legislation I will be spearheading is the constitutional amendment to allow the Georgia Lottery to create a sports gaming bill,” the State Rep. said in a guest column for Bryan County News last month. “With the rising popularity of sports gaming, especially with the rising popularity of the National Football League, many states have legalized the practice.”
“With this being the 30th anniversary of the lottery vote creating the HOPE Scholarship, more than 2 million Georgians have lifted themselves up through higher education and technical college careers. More than 1.6 million families received pre-K head starts,” he added. “We will take up sports gaming in the days to come to close the gap with HOPE and pre k. Bottom line, this will be another lottery game.”
While sports betting has been legalized in 33 states, plus the District of Columbia, Georgia is among seven states with active legislation that would also permit this form of wagering. With a population of almost 11 million, the Peach State would be a significant addition to the growing list of regulated markets.
Another state seeking to regulate sports betting is Kansas, where Senator Robert Olson, chairperson for the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, has recently confirmed the committee is targeting this year for legalization.
The main proposals seek to offer wagering operated through the Kansas Lottery. Kansas has four state-sponsored casinos and seven tribal gaming facilities. According to research posted by the American Gaming Association, Kansans wager about $1.3 billion illegally per year in sports gaming.