According to polls, most Georgia voters prefer casinos, with support for online sports betting falling short

In May 2018, the US Supreme Court opened the tap on the $165 billion US sports betting industry, allowing states to legalize online sports betting as lawmakers pushed to plug budget gaps.

Online betting tax revenues have flowed into the coffers of 22 states, including Georgia’s neighboring state of Tennessee, which has collected approximately $80 million in sports betting tax revenue since November 2020.

There wasn’t even a drop in Georgia’s treasury from sports betting. Is it time to legalize online gambling in Georgia and jump into the gold mine? Many think it is.

According to a statewide poll released this month, 45.6% of the likely voters surveyed supported making online betting on professional sports legal in the state, and 42.6% opposed it, with 11.8% saying ” Don’t know” replied.

When asked about casino gambling in Georgia, 59.7% said they were in favor, 29.1% against and 11.3% “don’t know”.

That Georgia recorder is one of more than 100 news outlets that are part of the Georgia News Collaborative, which commissioned this survey from the School of Public and International Affairs Survey Research Center at the University of Georgia. The nationwide poll polled 1,030 likely voters and includes a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Legalizing gambling – beyond the state lottery – would require changing the state constitution. Two-thirds of each legislative chamber would need to vote to put it on the 2023 vote.

Charles Hodges, one of the respondents and a finance professor at Richards College of Business at the University of West Georgia, says there’s little point for the state to ignore revenue when many residents are already finding opportunities to gamble in college and professional games across state lines.

“I don’t support gambling in Georgia in general, but I do support sports betting because it’s so easy to do,” Hodges said. “A fair amount of people here are betting on sports across state lines, and at least the state can get some of that revenue.”

Hodges, 64, said gambling at Draft Kings, for example, is done via computer and it’s fairly easy for Georgians to do so, especially when you’re near the state border.

“I don’t play much, if I did play it would be college football,” said Hodges, who is a Florida State fan.

“If you’re using a VPN (virtual private network) or home network, that home network shows I’m in Nebraska,” Hodges said. “There are a lot of people playing with their phones and computers. Tax money goes somewhere else, not in Georgia.”

Tennessee keeps track of the revenue it brings in from its online sports betting market. From November 2020, when it was launched, to July 2022, sales were $439.2 million. The Tennessee Education Lottery publishes numbers each month.

According to figures from the National Conference of State Legislatures, Indiana earned $12.1 million in tax revenue in 2020.

Should Georgia fill budget gaps with online betting and casinos?

Richard Rodriguez, 59, of Brooks, said the online sportsbook is “available everywhere else” and should also be available in Georgia.

“If I can bet in another state, I should be able to bet here,” he said. “I don’t know if Georgia benefits from this one way or another, it only benefits the people who enjoy doing it. I haven’t bet on a game in years, mostly because it’s not available.”

What professional sports organizations and gambling operators hope is that legal online betting will create excitement for the games and attract more fans. Rodriguez said a game like Utah vs. USC, a top-10 matchup last week, would be more interesting for him if he depended on the outcome.

“The Parlay ticket versus $50 for the theater, I’d much rather do that,” he said. “For me it’s a form of entertainment.”

When asked what he thought about putting gambling up for election in a constitutional referendum, Rodriguez said, “If it costs taxpayers nothing to put it up for election, I’d be fine with it.”

The downside of every game of chance is the risk of addiction. But the risks of addiction to other things – alcohol, drugs, sex – are already part of society. Threats are all around us, says Rodriguez.

“I see it as a possibility, you can get addicted to it, but people spend a lot of money on things like alcohol or other vices,” Rodriguez said. “Help the people who need it, but don’t punish everyone for a few bad apples.”

Ron Greene, who would not reveal his hometown, responded with “disagreement” when asked about legalizing online gambling, saying gambling for its own sake distracts from the enjoyment of sport. Competition is less important when money becomes more important.

“Sports betting just takes something away from the game itself,” he said. “It’s bad enough that we’re paying college kids and now we play with them when they’re trying to get an education. I don’t think it’s right.”

Of even greater concern is the organized crime threat that is tackling a young college athlete.

“I think crime can happen in high school sports and college sports (with legalized gambling) there’s always something that can go wrong,” he said.

Adam Fister, 33, of Newnan, sees something scarier than losing $10 to a busted parlay card on an NFL Sunday. He sees online gambling and casinos creating huge profits for companies that are masters at manipulating a digital screen.

“Football is huge, football is huge, I understand that,” Fister said, “but it opens the door for exploitation in other forms by these gambling companies when they stream gambling online to their audience, which is probably not age-sensitive.” Any 13 year old can create an account and is subject to gambling addiction. Thus, it leads to online gambling permeating society unhindered.

“Kids with undiagnosed ADHD are visiting these online gambling sites and it is 1,000% going to be a problem for them. There is research showing that companies are using ‘loot’ boxes and video mechanics to trap these kids in addiction cycles.”

Fister said that online gaming can be a problem not only for children but also for adults with a mental disorder.

“These random prize boxes have exactly the same characteristics as slot machines with shiny objects and flashing lights,” he said. “They don’t target normal people, they target people and give them a dopamine boost, people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD.”

Atlanta’s Braves, Falcons, United and Hawks worked together for several years to pass a gambling law in the state legislature. Clubs want fans to invest more in their teams and betting on your team creates an emotional bond.

“Just another sneaky way to take advantage of her fans,” Fister said. “They’ve been doing this for years.”

Georgians interviewed for this story expressed reservations about legalizing casinos in the state or doubted they would go to one, which did not agree with the poll’s findings. Almost 60% of respondents were in favor of legalized casino gambling, while 29.1% were against, with 11.3% responding “don’t know”.

Hodges, the finance professor, prefers online sports betting, but he’s adamantly opposed to casino gambling.

“I’ve seen what it’s done to the local economy along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, it’s sucked the life out of small businesses,” he said.

Rodriguez, the Brooks resident, is also “not a big proponent of casinos” in the state.

Greene said he’s been to casinos in other states and sees no appeal in putting one in, say, downtown Atlanta.

“People who appear to be in there are the ones who really don’t have any money,” he said. “They seem to be spending their paychecks to hit that one jackpot.”

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership Georgia recorder.

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