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Speaker Ralston endorses legalized gambling constitutional amendment

If the devil is in the details when it comes to legalizing gambling in Georgia, House Speaker David Ralston wants to leave the details out. “We’ve tripped over the details of this thing for years,” Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said Thursday during his annual pre-General Assembly session news conference. “Maybe we should just ask Georgians whether they want to allow gaming and, if so, move forward with the details.” Proposals to legalize casino gambling, pari-mutuel betting on horse racing and/or sports betting in Georgia have come up virtually every year for the last decade. Most of the bills have called for dedicating part of the proceeds to the HOPE Scholarship and pre-kindergarten programs.

The state Senate passed a constitutional amendment last year calling for a statewide referendum to legalize sports betting, marking a high-water mark for progress on legalized gambling in the General Assembly. But it failed to gain a vote on the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives.

A coalition of Atlanta’s professional sports teams – the Braves, Falcons, Hawks and Atlanta United – will be back during the 2022 legislative session starting next week to push the sports betting measure.

But longtime supporters of legalizing gambling in Georgia have come to agree with Ralston that lumping casinos, horse racing and sports betting into a single measure is a better approach. State Reps. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, who introduced the sports betting legislation last year, and House Regulated Industries Committee Chairman Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, have endorsed a single constitutional amendment covering all forms of legalized gambling over passing sports betting in isolation. Passing a constitutional amendment first would give Georgia voters a chance to weigh in on the concept of legalizing gambling. Then, if the amendment passes this November, lawmakers could come back next year and iron out the details governing how the program would work in separate “enabling” legislation.

Ralston said the issue has picked up momentum heading into this year’s session.

“There is an appetite I haven’t seen before to do something,” he said. Ralston also announced Thursday that the House would begin the first day of the session on Monday earlier than usual – at 8:30 a.m. – to give lawmakers time to travel to Indianapolis for Monday’s night’s college football championship game between Georgia and Alabama. The House would take off Tuesday and return on Wednesday.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

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