Georgia Pressing Hard for Legalized Gambling with $3bn Sweetener

Downtown Atlanta, Georgia, skyline

Georgia is one of the most anti-gambling states in America, behind only Hawaii and Utah in the rankings. However, certain parties are now pushing hard to legalize gambling, and they have a $3bn (£2.3bn) deal in the works for three casino resorts that should sweeten the deal and get changes pushed through.

History of gambling in Georgia

As mentioned, historically the state of Georgia has not been very welcoming to gambling. There is a state lottery, and charity bingo games are allowed, along with poker leagues that do not have any buy-in.

However, casinos and sports betting are nowhere to be found in the state. Therefore, gamblers have to go to another state if they want to gamble; or they can go on one of the two cruise ships that are located in the international waters near the coast.

Georgia is known for being a conservative state. Lotteries in the South were popular all throughout the 1800s, but Georgia decided to ban ticket sales in 1878. It wasn’t until 1993 that a state lottery was created.

A lot of states surrounding Georgia went on to legalize greyhound and horse racing, but Georgia did not. It was only in 1976 that charity raffles and bingo were allowed. Despite the strict laws, people have always found a way to navigate around them.

One of the most creative ways is through the cruise ships just off the coast. When you get onto one of the ships, it will proceed to international waters where you can gamble to your heart’s content.

A lot of illegal video poker terminals came into Georgia following a ban in South Carolina. Thanks to a loophole, they were technically legal, but it didn’t take long for new legislation to change that in 2002.

Internet cafes were popular for illegal gambling, but after 2011 the State authorities began to crack down on these operations. The future does look somewhat brighter for gambling in Georgia, however.

In 2012, the Senate voted in favor of a casino, with the revenues going toward the education system. There are also signs that more is yet to come

Could gambling be legalized soon?

There is now a big effort to locate three different billion-dollar resort casinos throughout Georgia, including one in Atlanta.

However, a lot of work will have to be done to get them up and running.

One of the chief people pushing the bill is Republican Representative Ron Stephens. At the next session of the legislature, casino gambling legalization will be proposed. The locations being are thought to be Atlanta, Savannah, and one near the state border with Florida.

Talking about a potential bill, Stephens said: “It will be nothing different than someone going to Disney World, but I want to see that in Georgia. It’s entertainment; the whole thing is entertainment.”

Prospective bidders for these new licenses would need to commit to create 10,000 new jobs and to invest at least $1.2bn (£920m) in the project.

Therefore, the three proposed licenses would bring over $3.6bn (£2.3bn) worth of new investment and at least 30,000 new jobs in the state. The figure of $1.2bn (£920m) is low enough for casinos of this stature.

They aren’t being billed as out-and-out casino resorts either; gambling will be only one portion of their focus. They want to cater to as wide an audience as they possibly can.  While there were no indications as to where in Atlanta the casino resort might be located, Stephens did confirm that the casino would lie inside the Interstate 285 circle.

This new bill would include a provision for a state referendum on the issue. This is needed when the state constitution has to be amended.

It is believed that a referendum would have a decent chance of being passed.

There has also been a widespread softening in the state’s anti-gambling stance. A lot of jobs and money are at stake to make the legislature seriously consider the issue, and it would be hard to turn down.