Can Sports Betting Play a Role in the Georgia Governor Race?

Some recent polling suggests sports betting could gain traction with Georgia voters, but it has yet to translate into winning numbers for Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams.

Last Updated: Sep 20, 2022 1:11 PM ET Read Time: 3 min
Stetson Bennett IV Georgia Bulldogs college football
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The lack of legal sports betting in Georgia is being wielded by one candidate for the governor’s office against another on the campaign trail, but it has yet to prove itself a winning argument, at least according to the polls.

Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for Georgia governor, has proposed legalizing and taxing online sports betting in the southeastern state as a way to fund need-based education aid and technical college. Abrams, who ran for the same office in 2018 and lost, says she would push for a constitutional amendment to allow casinos in Georgia as well. 

It’s a policy that could separate Abrams from her opponent in the minds of voters. The incumbent, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp (perhaps due to the sizable population of social conservatives in the state), has reportedly taken no position on legal sports betting, although he opposed it in 2018.

In the absence of a position, however, Kemp’s opponent is attempting to provide one for him. Abrams has recently been stepping up the sports betting-related attacks on Kemp, saying in ads that the governor blocked wagering efforts in the state and allowed tax dollars to flow elsewhere, like Tennessee, which has online sports betting. 

The question now is whether sports betting is an issue that can gain purchase with voters. Kemp is polling ahead of Abrams — by an average of about 6.6 points over the past month, according to RealClearPolitics (a more recent poll suggests the gap could be wider) — and the latter is looking for a way to make up ground. 

There are some signs that sports betting can be a winning issue with the general public. A 2020 Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll found 57% of Georgia voters supported legalizing sports betting, while a more recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll showed 66% of Americans surveyed approved of the same. 

Also, if the figures floated by the supporters of sports betting in Georgia are accurate, there is already a robust gambling market in the state. Estimates of nearly $5 billion being illegally bet in the state every year and the possibility of $30 million to $100 million in tax revenue have been tossed out, which are not insignificant.

To compare, sports betting in Virginia has produced more than $5.3 billion in wagers from its launch in January 2021 to the end of May 2022, according to the state lottery. Sportsbook operators have handed over more than $33.6 million in tax as well during that same time.

Got that Dawg in 'em

But even if the math adds up for voters, there remains another question of whether Abrams can garner enough support from the legislature and then again from the electorate. The constitutional amendment required to bring sports betting to the state would have to be approved by two-thirds of the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate, and then by a majority of voters in a referendum. 

Still, the timing of the gubernatorial election could play a role. 

Football is back, with bettors in the state currently without any legal means to bet on the Atlanta Falcons or Georgia Bulldogs (and the latter are the top-ranked college football squad in the United States). That fact hasn't escaped the Abrams campaign, which may be hoping the football FOMO is enough to get out the vote for them.

"When Georgia wins the bet," one of the recent Abrams ads says, "states like Tennessee get the tax money."

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