Senate Republicans defy Georgia's largest religious organization, pass sports betting proposal with help from Dems


ATLANTA — The Republican majority in the state Senate, with help from Democratic colleagues, have pushed through a proposal that could legalize sports gambling in defiance of Georgia’s largest religious organization, which called for the measure to be quashed.

The Senate voted 41-12 on Tuesday to pass Senate Resolution 579, another toward putting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot for Georgia voters to ratify or reject. But first, it would have to be greenlighted by a two-thirds majority of House lawmakers.

The 1.4 million-member Georgia Baptist Convention, which has steadfastly opposed the expansion of gambling based on moral and ethical concerns, is pinning hopes on like-minded House lawmakers to derail the proposal.

“This legislation can be stopped in its tracks, especially if the citizens reach out to their representatives and ask them to vote no,” said Mike Griffin, a public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.

The Senate proposal would tax revenues from sports betting and appropriate 80% of the proceeds to prekindergarten programs and potentially college scholarships. Another 15% of proceeds would be used to help people addicted to gambling, and 5% would be used for recruiting sports events to the state.

Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone, said sports gambling is addictive and should be rejected by the state’s lawmakers, not approved for a ballot referendum.

“The people who vote for the constitutional amendment will not have the knowledge and information that you and I have,” Harbin told his Senate colleagues.

“This is profoundly dangerous for Georgians and opens up all kinds of dangers,” said Suzanne Guy, a member of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Public Affairs Committee and a member of First Baptist Church of Woodstock. “I am deeply concerned, and I long for more pastors to address this issue from the pulpits.”

Meanwhile, pro-gambling advocates are pushing to expand gambling even beyond sports betting. They’re calling for casinos and parimutuel betting on horse racing.

Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, said her party agreed to go along with the sports betting proposal Tuesday because of the promised funding for prekindergarten programs.

“Our collective voice has the power to prevent the expansion of gambling via sports betting,” Griffin said in an email to Georgia Baptist congregations earlier this year. "Protecting our families and children from the risks of gambling addiction is paramount.”