Legislation to Expand Gambling Clears Georgia House
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Legislation to Expand Gambling Clears Georgia House

Legislation to Expand Gambling Clears Georgia House

A Georgia State House panel has approved legislation that will give Georgians the chance to vote on a state gambling expansion.

The committee approved two pieces of legislation - the first, House Resolution 378, would ask voters if the state should allow casino gambling, sports betting, and pari-mutuel betting. The second, House Bill 570, would regulate gambling if voters approve an expansion.

House Regulated Industries Committee Chairman Alan Powell, a Hartwell Republican, said voters will now finally have a chance to share their opinion.

He added, “We only put it on the ballot for the people who make their choice. If they’re in favor, so be it. If they’re not in favor, so be it. It’s our duty to put it out there for them.”

Only two members voted against the legislation. One of those was Rep. Bruce Williamson, a Monroe Republican.

Before voting against it, he said, “I have every confidence in this committee and in this legislative body that we will put the necessary guardrails around this measure to at least help the HOPE scholarship moving forward.” 

Money generated by legalized sports betting through the Georgia Lottery is planned to be dedicated to the HOPE scholarship, while funds from non-lottery sports betting, casinos, and race tracks would be given to improving health care. 

Powell made clear that HB 570 was simply a draft of what regulations could look like - making an outline of potential licensing costs and spending money to address gambling addiction. The bill also stipulates casinos and racetracks should offer dining and hotels to open as multi-use properties. It is possible video slots could also be introduced.

Powell added, “The enabling legislation is for discussion purposes — to put it out there for the people of Georgia to see that what we’re talking about is resort destination casinos, highly controlled economic development. And there will be numerous changes made.”

The issue, although debated for years now, seems to have finally gotten the go-ahead in a time where Gov. Brian Kemp has announced a cut to state spending. The idea of increased state revenue from gambling is now one lawmakers are likely to support.

Supporters of the legislation believe gambling expansion could create thousands of jobs and add millions into the HOPE scholarship. Conservative groups, on the other hand, have expressed concerns gambling can become an addictive habit for some and create crime.

A lobbyist with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, Mike Griffin, said,: “The people do have a right. They have a right to vote, they have a responsibility according to the Constitution. But the legislators have a responsibility. And that responsibility is to be the gatekeeper on what is before the people by way of a constitutional amendment.”

Georgians would need to approve a constitutional amendment in order to introduce horse racing and casino gambling to the state, which lawyers have also encouraged lawmakers to do if they wish to pursue legalized sports betting.

To do so through the General Assembly, two-thirds of each body would need to approve the measure - equating to 120 state representatives and 37 senators. Polls are backing the expansion. Research carried out in January by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found 64% of Georgians are in favor of casino gambling, while 57% said they backed sports betting on professional events.

The state is yet to legalize online gambling, which is slowly being approved across the country.

State Rep Al Williams, D-Midway said, “This is an opportunity for economic progress in Georgia. Let’s do what the vast majority of Georgians are asking for: ‘give us the right to vote.’ If they say no, [then we’ll] go home. In a democracy, we give people the opportunity to make the decision.”

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