Georgia Senate Panel Approves Referendum on Sports Betting, Casinos

Dave Williams

Tuesday, February 27th, 2024

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Casinos are back on the table in the General Assembly.

The state Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee approved a proposed constitutional amendment late Thursday calling for Georgia voters to decide whether to legalize not only sports betting but casino gambling. Other gambling legislation before the General Assembly this year is limited to sports betting.

Casinos would produce much more economic impact than sports betting, Sen. Carden Summers, R-Cordele, chief sponsor of Senate Resolution 538, told committee members Thursday.

Georgians are already gambling in casinos, with more than 80,000 traveling to out-of-state casinos each year, Summers said. The rub is that the jobs and tax revenue those casinos generate don’t come back to Georgia.

Summers pointed to the funding the Georgia Lottery has generated for HOPE Scholarship and pre-kindergarten students as an example of what legalized gambling already has done for the Peach State.

“The lottery’s been wonderful for our children,” he said.

Under Senate Resolution 538, 50% of the tax revenue produced by sports betting and casinos would go toward transportation improvements. Another 20% would be dedicated to pre-kindergarten and child-care programs.

The other 30% would be divided equally among mental health and gambling addiction programs, rural health care, and Georgia’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Summers also noted that Georgia lawmakers have debated legalizing gambling for years, but none of the many bills on the issue has made it through the General Assembly.

“Let’s put this issue to bed,” he urged members of the committee. “I trust the people of Georgia to make this decision.”

Local political and business leaders from Columbus and Henry and Liberty counties spoke in support of the bill, citing the potential economic impact of casinos. Senate Resolution 538 calls for the construction of five casinos around the state.

But Mike Griffin, public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said talking about the economic benefits of legalized gambling ignores the social costs. He said casinos would be accompanied by a rise in addictive gambling, sex trafficking, and suicide.

“We can’t let money be the reason we do everything,” Griffin said. “We can’t let money be the ultimate moral standard.”

The resolution now moves to the Senate Rules Committee to schedule a floor vote.