WEEKLY FEATURE: Four States See Gaming Legalization Efforts

Four states have historically held fast against the expansion of gaming and sports betting, but the tide could be turning as tax revenues continue to pour into their neighboring markets. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said he is open to the legalization of gambling in his state, within certain limits.

WEEKLY FEATURE: Four States See Gaming Legalization Efforts

As state legislatures begin to convene for the 2023 session, the new year has presented new opportunities for gaming legalization in large untapped markets around the U.S., with Texas, South Carolina, Hawaii and Georgia being the most prominent examples.

Gaming in Texas became a possibility when, during his recent re-election campaign, Governor Greg Abbott said he would considering signing a bill that legalized gaming in Texas. And just last week House Speaker Dade Phelan agreed, showing that Texas Republicans might be willing to pass such a measure. While Phelan agrees with Abbott in that he doesn’t want to “walk into every convenience store and see … slot machines.”

Texas has some of the strictest gambling bans in the nation, and the change the laws it would require two-thirds of the state legislature to approve a statewide referendum.

While Phelan might be receptive to gaming, major hurdles remain in the state Senate. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, a longtime opponent of gaming, controls the Senate and doesn’t see the bill advancing there, although state Senator Carol Alvarado, a Houston Democrat, has filed legislation to open the state to casinos and sports betting.

“I want to see destination-style casinos that are high-quality and that create jobs, and that improve the lifestyles of those communities,” he said.

In South Carolina, state Rep. Todd Rutherford introduced a bill that wouldn’t actually legalize gaming but it would give the state legislature more leeway in making those decisions. If the bill would pass, it would allow the legislature to add to the state constitution new passages. But any constitutional amendment in South Carolina would have to be approved by two-thirds of state voters. Rutherford introduced a bill in 2022 that would have legalized sports betting, horse racing, card games, dice games, and electronic game devices in the state.

While Governor Henry McMaster is solidly opposed to gaming, this won’t go away soon as South Carolina is a hotbed of grey area slot machine parlors, seemingly flaunting the state’s gaming laws.

Hawaii is one of two states in the country that has no form of gambling, but it might soon be saying aloha to sports betting if a state legislator gets his way.

Rep. John Mizuno told reporters his sponsored bill that he introduced January 2 would allow for a retail location in Oahu that would offer sports wagering and a card room.

The license would be good for 10 years. Mizuno said in a release before a press conference announcing his legislation that it would be beneficial to Hawaiians.

“With Hawaii residents dropping a billion dollars to Las Vegas, Nevada, every year, I think a sports and card gaming bill warrants at least a discussion,” Mizuno said “If crime is associated with gambling, why is gaming legal in forty-eight states and why are so many Hawaii residents going to Las Vegas, with many taking multiple trips?

Hawaii residents vacationing and gambling in Las Vegas is well chronicled. Casinos such as the California in downtown Las Vegas cater to those from the islands. In 2011, Civil Beat wrote a story that said Boyd Gaming, which owns the California and other properties, earned approximately $600 million from Hawaiian tourists annually.

This is not the first sports betting bill Mizuno has tried to get passed in the legislature. In February 2022, Mizuno sponsored House Bill 1815. He said then that in addition to going to Las Vegas, many residents were using illegal offshore sportsbooks. He would rather the money stay in Hawaii.

“Hawaii residents take over 500,000 visits a year to Las Vegas, with many visiting two or three times per year,” Mizuno said. “They are spending and gambling $400 to $800 million a year in Nevada. Our job is to keep a portion of that money for our local economy and our local people.”

Hawaii has resisted any form of gambling since becoming a state in 1959. They are one of two states, Utah the other, that has no form of gambling whatsoever.

Down south, legislators in Georgia are working on trying to get sports betting legalized in the state, but it is a difficult process that requires support from both parties.

Supporters say it would bring revenue to support higher education, while opponents worry it could lead to addiction and financial issues.

Sports betting has been a hot topic in Georgia for years but opponents have been able to keep it away from the Peach State thus far. That mindset, however, might be yielding to popular sentiment.

State Rep. Ron Stephens, who is chairman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee, said Georgia is missing out on millions in tax revenue every year.

“We walk away from $100 million every year in sports gambling, and other states, and places like Antigua, get that money from people here in Georgia,” Stephens told the Current. “Let’s regulate it, tax it, and put the money in Hope (Scholarship) and pre-K.”

11Alive, a local television station, went around to local residents and asked them what they thought about passing sports betting.

“I definitely support the legislation for sports betting as long as the state of Georgia does right by the community and invests some of the profits into some of the areas where it’s needed,” said Monica Robinson.

“A lot of people are addicted to a lot of things,” Ejriece Robinson said. “Gambling would just happen to be one. Of course, there would be rules and regulations to it which would keep people in check and keep people from going overboard in gambling, I feel.”

Not everyone is a fan of sports betting. Mike Griffin, who is with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, told Georgia Public Broadcasting that he was worried about the precedent sports gambling could set.

“There’s a lot of things people are doing that we don’t want to make legal, and if we continue to follow this kind of rationale, we’re going to have legalized marijuana, recreational marijuana, and one day we’re going to see legalized prostitution,” Griffin said.

In order to get the subject before voters, Stephens said two bills would have to be approved. The first would require a constitutional amendment to allow sports gambling, horse racing, and casinos. The second piece of legislation would provide specifics on how the revenue would be spent, as well as the tax rate they would levy against sportsbook and casino operators.

Stephens has supported legislation in the past but it has never gotten to the voters of Georgia. He is confident this year could be different.

“The make-up of the people (voters) who send us here is why we need this,” Stephens told the Current. “We have 3.6 million families that have been touched with Hope (Scholarship) and pre-K and they want the opportunity to continue to support Hope and pre- K.”