Georgia Baptists mobilize against latest legislative proposal to legalize sports betting


ATLANTA — Georgia’s largest religious organization is taking aim at the latest proposal to legalize sports betting in the state.

The 1.4 million-member Georgia Baptist Convention, which has long opposed any expansion of gambling, is mobilizing its forces to urge lawmakers to defeat Senate Bill 386.

The measure cleared the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee on an 8-2 vote Tuesday morning and now goes to the Senate Rules Committee, which will decide whether to call it for a floor vote.

“Our collective voice has the power to prevent the expansion of gambling via sports betting,” said Mike Griffin, public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, in an email to the state’s 3,400 Southern Baptist churches on Tuesday. “Protecting our families and children from the risks of gambling addiction is paramount.”

The measure, if passed, would empower the Georgia Lottery Corp. to award 16 licenses to sports betting facilities without first seeking an amendment to the state constitution.

Georgia’s constitution specifically bans gambling except for a lottery, which was permitted under a voter-approved amendment in 1992.

Under the latest measure, the Braves, Falcons, Hawks, Dream, and United would each receive one license, as would the Augusta National Golf Club, the Professional Golf Association, and the Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Seven licenses would be available to sports betting facilities through an application process overseen by lottery officials. The lottery would also receive a license.

The legislation calls for 20% of adjusted gross revenues derived from sports betting to go to Georgia’s HOPE Scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs. It would legalize sports betting without requiring a constitutional amendment, a controversial move that, if passed, would face a legal challenge from anti-gambling forces.

A second sports gambling bill that requires a constitutional amendment cleared the Senate Regulated Industries & Utilities Committee earlier this month. 

Georgia Baptists oppose that measure as well.

Nick Fernandez, director of government affairs for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, said sports betting could generate an estimated $100 million a year for HOPE Scholarships and pre-kindergarten programs. But gambling opponents say the societal costs would far exceed that.

“The disastrous effects of problem gambling are well known and well documented,” Mack Parnell, executive director of the Georgia Faith and Freedom Coalition, told lawmakers Tuesday morning.

Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Buford, the latest bill’s chief sponsor, has included a provision that mandates ads educating Georgians about the potential pitfalls of betting on sports and of ways to put personalized caps on the amount of money they can wager.