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SPIGOLON: Legalized gambling poses real benefits
Horse racing
Proponents have been trying to convince lawmakers to legalize casino gambling and parimutuel betting on horse racing in Georgia for almost a decade. - photo by Special Photo

The MegaMillions drawing Tuesday, Jan. 12, paid out $615 million to the winner — if there was one.

The odds of any one ticket holder winning it was one in 302 million, but the odds of winning any of the Mega Millions prizes was one in 24.

Who hasn’t been in a hurry to buy something at a convenience store and gotten behind someone taking their time and sampling the many lottery products available?

Or gone to any of the greyhound tracks which were readily available to take vacationers’ cash on trips to Florida?

I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, in a state in which gambling was illegal. Just over the Mississippi River, in West Memphis, Arkansas, Southland Greyhound Park was happy to take Tennesseeans’ money.

At one point while I was growing up, legal types opined that even giving cash prizes to the ladies, like my grandmother, from bingo winnings at churches was in violation of Tennessee’s constitutional ban on winning cash on games of chance.

So, when our state approved the Georgia Lottery in the 1990s, Tennesseans rushed to buy fists full of tickets from Georgia stores near the state line — so much so that Tennessee approved its own lottery in the 2000s.

Now, advocates for bringing legalized gambling to Georgia will be back at the Capitol in Atlanta this month to tell lawmakers, again, about the financial benefits casinos, horse racing and sports betting will bring our state.

The Capitol Beat News Service says legislation authorizing online sports betting in Georgia has the best odds of advancing this year.

“It’s the easiest one to pass,” state Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, told the news service.

Stephens is chairman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee. “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,” he said.

Proponents have been trying to convince lawmakers to legalize casino gambling and parimutuel betting on horse racing in Georgia for almost a decade. Two-thirds majorities in the state House and Senate are required to approve constitutional amendments and put them on the statewide ballot — and those majorities have not materialized yet.

Sports betting only requires simple majorities to get through the two legislative chambers because it could be accomplished simply by amending the law that created the Georgia Lottery during the 1990s, proponents say.

“Sports betting also enjoys the advantages of being a relative newcomer to the debate, having been taken up in the General Assembly for the first time during (the 2020) session. Lawmakers haven’t had time to grow tired of talking about it,” the news service said.

Atlanta’s four professional sports teams are backing the plan as a way to generate more fan interest, especially to offset some of the losses from shortened seasons and limited attendance because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Braves, Falcons, Hawks and Atlanta United even formed a coalition last winter to lobby on the legislation’s behalf, the news service reported.

“Increasingly, the cellphone is the primary means of entertainment for younger fans,” said Billy Linville, spokesman for the Georgia Professional Sports Alliance. “[The teams] have to engage them or they’ll go elsewhere.”

They also note sports betting is legal in nearly 24 states. It produced $131.4 million, or more than $4 million per day — in wagering last month in Tennessee after legislation legalizing sports betting took effect Nov. 1.

In New Jersey it led to $4.55 billion in wagering — with $3.8 billion of that bet online.

Proposed legislation in Georgia will call for dedicating 20% of the proceeds from sports betting in Georgia to the HOPE Scholarships program, the news service reported.

The program was kept solvent by the Legislature and former Gov. Nathan Deal in 2011 as increasing student enrollment and tuition costs threatened its solvency.

State Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, said the state is going to have to find different revenue sources than Coin-Operated Amusement Machines and the lottery which, despite producing more than $4 billion a year in revenue, is unable to fund the HOPE scholarship.

Other lawmakers like Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, chairman of the House Regulated Industries Committee, would like to put money generated by casinos in Georgia toward health care.

This state needs the money any or all forms of gambling will generate.

Part of the state’s portion of gambling proceeds could go to help low-income families to cover what they can’t when their children receive the HOPE Scholarship, as Democrats have expressed.

Competition could hurt the lottery program’s revenues but I don’t see how the audiences for each are exactly the same.

If some kind of education program can be enacted to mandate that people be informed about the potential for addiction to gambling, it would enhance it greatly for me.

I think it’s time Georgia finally seriously considers approval of something this year — even if it’s only sport gambling which is likely being done anyway.

Tom Spigolon is news editor of The Covington News. He may be reached at