FILE - Horse racing

Georgia lawmakers are debating the financial implications of legalizing sports betting and horse racing in the state.

The Senate Gaming and Pari-mutuel Wagering on Horse Racing and Growing Georgia’s Equine Industry Study Committee met Tuesday for its second meeting.  The members examined the possibility of changing state law.

“We just really have a lot of questions on how this industry works,” Committee Chairman Sen. Brandon Beach said.

About 21 states have taken legislative action since the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2018 lifted a federal ban on sports betting outside of Nevada. The 11-member committee was created in the 2019 legislative session to explore recommendations for the next session, which starts in January 2020. The committee will have until Dec. 31 to report its findings.

Georgia’s state lottery and its multiple games are the only forms of legal gambling allowed in the state. Net proceeds from the Georgia lottery are used to support educational programs and scholarships for Georgia's students.

Georgia law currently bans casino gambling, horse racing and for-profit bingo and raffles. The law, however, does not specifically rule out sports betting.

Deputy Legislative Counsel D. Stuart Morelli advised the committee that a constitutional amendment will be needed to legalize sports betting.

“Because there are even odds on whether or not the Georgia Constitution currently prohibits sports betting, the only surefire way to avoid years of protracted litigation over the matter would be a constitutional amendment that explicitly authorizes the legalization of sports betting in one or more forms,” he wrote in a memo to committee members.

Lawmakers heard both sides of the debate over gambling Tuesday.

Proponents of legalized gambling in Georgia say local casinos will keep tax revenue in the state that would have otherwise be spent in another state where gambling is legal, such as Nevada. They also say that horse racing will contribute to the state’s multiple billion-dollar agribusiness sector, in particular, the equine industry. Beach said it will inmate more jobs in horse training and breeding. 

Critics of gambling say loosening the law will lead to increased social issues such as suicides and crime, economic issues like bankruptcy and job loss, which could spiral into government dependency.

“It’s like opening Pandora’s box,” Virginia Galloway of the Faith and Freedom Coalition said.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.