Georgia is preparing for a new debate on the legalization of sports betting in 2024. The issue has generated intense divisions among lawmakers over the past two years, with debates ranging from gambling addiction to the distribution of revenues, with consecutive attempts at legalization failing in the Legislative Assembly.
At a recent meeting, representatives of the Entain Foundation U.S. dialogued with state legislators in search of strategies to pass a gambling bill next year. Bill Pascrell, a trustee of Entain and a partner at PPAG – one of the most influential lobbying firms in the US – revealed that several legislators have asked for support to legalize sports betting and other forms of gambling, following the example of dozens of other American states.
Entain, an international gambling company and partner of MGM Resorts in the American-facing BetMGM venture, and other gambling interests argue that legalization would benefit the state economically.
“Georgia, as you can imagine, has politically a lot of issues including the Trump indictment, so there’s a little bit of a distraction at the moment but I feel pretty positive Georgia is going to move (betting) on next year along with a few other states,” Pascrell said, as per WABE.
For his part, Martin Lycka, Senior Vice President of U.S. Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gaming at Entain, emphasized that the gains go beyond tax revenues, including investments in marketing and benefits for local communities.
Martin Lycka “The other one relates to consumer protection legislation in order to clamp down on any black market,” Lycka said. “Let’s not fool ourselves into believing that Georgians are not betting at this moment.”
While sports betting is seemingly proving more popular with legislators, there are still disagreements about other games, such as horse racing and casinos. Additionally, how the revenues will be distributed remains largely open, and former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton sparked another debate when he opined that a statewide ballot referendum is not necessary if gambling is handled by the Georgia Lottery.
Despite disagreements over the format and origin of the tax, a consensus among legislators seems to be that educational projects should be the main recipients, to be used for the same purpose as the state lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship and Pre-K programs. However, there is still disagreement over whether part of that money should be given to need-based scholarships for students.
Not everyone is on board with the plan, though. The Georgia Baptist Mission Board has expressed concern about legalization, warning about the dangers of addiction. Despite admitting that there is a real possibility that gambling will be introduced in the next session, Mike Griffin, a lobbyist for the organization, questioned the real economic benefits for the state, pointing out that the associated costs may outweigh the profits.
“Sports gambling is one of the most dangerous forms of gambling because of its easy accessibility and its ability to create addiction,” emphasized Griffin. “While I know it is being said that many are already doing this kind of gambling anyway, we must understand that just because somebody is doing something illegal does not mean that it should be made legal.”
The discussion also turns to social responsibility. Entain suggests that legalization could help identify and treat compulsive gamblers, who are currently attracted to unregulated channels including offshore bookies and online casino.
“If you don’t regulate it, you can’t track it, you can’t monitor it,” pointed Pascrell. “And unlike alcohol and drug use, it’s really not readily apparent whether somebody’s having a gambling addiction problem. The only way to penetrate and have an impact on problem gambling in a particular jurisdiction is to regulate it.”