Pro-gambling lawmakers hijack soap box derby bill in effort to revive sports wagering


ATLANTA  — Pro-gambling lawmakers have hijacked feel-good legislation that would have designated an official state soap box derby, turning it into  a longshot bill that would legalize sports gambling in the state.

State Rep. Leesa Hagan, sponsor of the bill to honor the Southeast Georgia Soap Box Derby in Lyons,  said she wasn’t consulted and didn’t consent to the move.

“I don’t want my soap box derby to be associated with sports betting,” the Lyons Republican told the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee.

Despite Hagan’s protest, the committee amended House Bill 237 to include the legalization of online betting by early next year and to do so without asking voters to amend the state constitution.

The bill still has to receive and survive floor votes in the Senate and the House, both of which have rejected similar measures in recent weeks. The Senate has already voted down two gambling bills, one that would have legalized wagering on sports, including horse races, and another that would have put a constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to consider the issue. House leaders didn't even bring a similar gambling bill for a floor vote.

Sen. Mike Dugan, a Carrollton Republican, predicted that the hijacking of the soap box derby bill will ensure sports gambling won’t pass.

“Every person that was on the fence in the state of Georgia has just now picked a side,” Dugan said. "So, I can’t support this.”

Mike Griffin, public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said he’s amazed that anyone in Senate leadership would still be advocating for sports betting when two such bills have already been overwhelmingly defeated in floor votes in the current legislative session.

“Gambling has the potential to destroy whole families through addiction, bankruptcy,” he said.  “We do not need gambling made legal at any level in the state of Georgia.”


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