Lieutenant governor hints gambling bills are long shot this year

    Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan told reporters Monday that he hasn't seen any "overwhelming push for gambling" from senators or the public. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

    Gambling proponents may have gone bust just one day into the new session, with one high-ranking state leader expressing skepticism about the desire for expanded opportunities in Georgia.

    Several key lawmakers spent the fall considering online sports betting, horse racing and casino-style gaming in Georgia, and although two panels have not officially endorsed a plan, a push for some form of expanding gambling seemed likely to emerge from those deliberations this session.

    That was until Senate leaders, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan chief among them, downplayed such proposals Monday. Duncan presides over the state Senate and has major influence over what bills make it to the floor for a vote.

    “I’ve not had a line of senators over the last nine months outside that office trying to take the door off the hinges to try to talk about gambling,” the Cumming Republican told reporters Monday. “I just haven’t seen that overwhelming push for gambling here in the state of Georgia. I certainly haven’t heard it out as I travel around the state.”

    A Senate study committee, led by Sen. Brandon Beach, an Alpharetta Republican, delved into the issue but came back without any recommendations late last year.

    A House panel is still weighing the issue and seemed likely to pursue a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide whether to expand legalized gaming in Georgia beyond the lottery that has for decades funded pre-K education and the HOPE scholarship.

    Duncan’s comments comes just days after House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, told reporters that he believed voters should be allowed to weigh in on the question.

    “What we’re talking about at the end of the day is do we trust Georgians enough to let them make the decision as we have to under our law,” Ralston said at the time. “We’ve talked about this issue for years and one of these days we’re going to have to say we’re going to quit talking and vote on it and however it comes out is the way it comes out.”

    There has been some debate over whether any ballot question should focus on any particular form of gambling, such as the less controversial sports betting that some argue would not even require constitutional tinkering. But Ralston said last week that he believed the “more cautious approach” would be to include all three types of gambling in the wording.

    Jill Nolin
    Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.