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Georgia gambling bills 'hostage' to bipartisan strife

State Dems are flexing rare leverage in the Georgia legislature.

ATLANTA — There are at least 11 gambling bills in the Georgia legislature this year, and most of them have bipartisan support. Yet, none of them has passed the House or Senate and appear stalled.

Gambling bills are popular with both parties - and with scores of lobbyists who have been trying for years to get gambling measures through the legislature.

This year, there are new bills to create casino resorts; to create a horse racing industry and to legalize wagering on sports. Even the Braves and Falcons have endorsed the sports book bill.  

The proceeds would benefit the Georgia Lottery and the wildly popular HOPE Scholarship. So, what’s wrong?

"Unfortunately, this is politics," said state Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), the upbeat yearly sponsor of gambling legislation. "They tend to want to hold you hostage."

In particular, Democrats who say they back the gambling bills are using a rare bit of leverage. They want the gambling bills to benefit low-income kids who they say need college scholarships too - but can’t qualify under HOPE. 

"It is increasingly so very difficult for members of our communities to get to college, pay for college. We feel that is one of the ways that we can do it," said state Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain), chairman of the House Democratic caucus. 

"We’re talking about a whole new revenue stream in online sports betting," he added. "That should be part of the conversation."

Ironically, Mitchell is a cosponsor of gambling legislation his caucus is stalling.

Although gambling bills have bipartisan support, many Republicans don’t support state-sanctioned gambling because they view it as a vice. So, no gambling bill will ever pass without support from both parties. 

If there were oddsmakers at the capitol, the betting would not look good for this legislative session - unless the Democrats can win concessions.

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