Could Georgia Considering Sports Betting Influence Neighboring Florida To Do Same?

Written By JR Duren on December 31, 2020

A new year may bring a new state to the sports betting table.

The Calhoun Times has reported that a trio of lawmakers plan to pre-file legislation for the legalization of sports betting, casinos and horse racing in Georgia.

Though sports betting isn’t legal in Florida, a win in Georgia may be the tipping point that the state’s lawmakers need to bring regulated wagering to the Sunshine State.

Georgia lawmaker says sports betting is an easy sell

Among the state’s proponents of legalizing sports betting, casinos and horse racing is Rep. Ron Stephens, a Republican from Savannah who is the chairman of the House Economic Development & Tourism Committee.

Stephens told the Calhoun Times that getting sports betting passed will likely be a walk in the park compared with other gaming-related efforts.

“It’s the easiest one to pass. It clearly does not require a constitutional amendment. … It’s just a matter of us giving the (Georgia) Lottery Commission direction and authority they already have.”

Stephens is referring to the fact that lawmakers don’t need to create a constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting. Rather, they can adjust the existing legislation that governs the Georgia Lottery Commission. Such changes would require a simple majority instead of a two-thirds majority.

Georgia politicians highlight multiple benefits of gaming

Beyond sports betting, lawmakers have argued that casinos and horse racing can bring valuable revenue to the state.

However, lawmakers aren’t quite settled on where that money should go if the state legalizes various forms of gaming.

Sen. Brandon Beach told the Calhoun Times that the state’s slots and lottery drawings aren’t generating enough revenue to fund the state’s HOPE Scholarship, which provides college tuition at public and private Georgia colleges and universities.

Rep. Alan Powell argued that any revenue generated from casinos should go toward the state’s healthcare budget.

Another lawmaker, Sen. Bill Cowsert, expressed concern that the lottery’s revenue will suffer if all three verticals are legalized.

And while Cowsert worries about a rise in problem gambling after legalization, he believes the state can “educate the gamblers (about) what the risks are … and do something to make sure they don’t hurt themselves,” Cowsert told the paper.

What would GA legalization do for Florida?

Like many states in the South, Georgia and Florida are conservative. As such, they tend not to support sports betting and casinos. Some states have broken from this tradition. Mississippi is a prime example of a thriving casino industry.

However, no state on the coast between Mississippi and North Carolina have legalized sports betting for public and tribal land (North Carolina authorized sports wagering on tribal land in 2019).

Still, a breakthrough in Georgia may open the flood gates for Florida.

Aside from a wider cultural acceptance of sports betting nationwide, the tax revenue that sports betting and non-tribal casinos would generate for the state’s coffers may be all the convincing Florida needs.

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JR Duren

J.R. Duren has covered the gambling beats for more than a dozen states for Catena Media since 2015. His past reporting experience includes two years at the Villages Daily Sun, and he is a first-place winner at the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism Contest.

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