An Overview of Gambling Laws in the State Of Georgia
Georgia is not a gambling-friendly State – in fact on a scale of restrictions and punishments for those organizing the games, this State sits just behind Utah and Hawaii in the ‘Least Gambling-Friendly State’ league. Residents do have a lottery, and can gamble on charity bingo games or even enter poker leagues with no player buy-ins. For casino or betting Georgians will either need to cross State borders or go out to see on one of two Casino cruises that operate in International waters off of the coast. This guide to Georgia gambling laws has all the information you need.
First below, you will find a quick-fire history of the gambling legislation of Georgia. On this page is will read more like a chronology of when things were banned than anything else. After that there is a game-by-game guide, which outlines the different options for different forms of gambling. Next you will find a timeline and snippets from the current legislation – followed by a summary and look into the future at the bottom of this page.
This has always been a conservative State, and the history of gambling is one of crack-downs and reigning in of unlicensed operators. The first gambling was from the heyday of Southern lotteries which were in the 1800’s – lead by southern neighbor Louisiana. In 1878 Georgia passed a law banning the sale of lottery tickets, and it would be more than 100 years before a modern State lottery was set up – the first draw taking place in 1993.
While many surrounding States legalized horse and / or greyhound race betting via pooled or Pari-Mutuel machines – Georgia stood firm. It would be 1976 before the first limited carve-out was instigated. This was for charity bingo and raffles – and is tightly licensed even today.
What you will find in this State is a history of residents finding a way to gamble regardless of what the State does. This included online gambling and poker, which like in many States is not specifically banned – but is assumed to come under the wide anti-gambling remit of the State. There have also been some more creative efforts.
The most successful of these are ‘cruises to nowhere’ which take place from the Georgia coast. You get into a ship, sail out to international waters – where you can legally gamble. There are currently 2 such boats operating.
After South Carolina banned Video Poker machines – a flood of these devices found their way to Georgia. A loophole in the law involving payouts via tickets meant that they were legal – at least in the opinion of the operators. The government lost no time on this one, pushing through some legislation which made the machines completely illegal in 2002.
Like in other States, internet cafes have appeared which are used as quasi-casinos. These underground establishments provide gambling to a lot of people. In 2011 they caught the eye of the State prosecutors – who have been busy cracking down on them ever since.
With the Republican senate voting (narrowly) in 2012 to establish a casino which would pay for education, there is some hope for the future. That particular bill was not signed, though there is hope for both casino and horse racing over the next few years. The consensus among experts is that internet gambling is not on the cards any time soon.
Casino Games: No, though there is some hope on this front with a small majority of Republican senators in Georgia voting to allow a casino to be built – with profits funding the community college program. This was put on hold by Governor Nathan Deal, who said a bigger majority was needed. You can enjoy casino cruises from Georgia which sail out to international waters in order to host gambling games.
Online Casinos: No, there is nothing explicitly banning internet gambling in Georgia, however the general definitions of bets and gambling devices are wide enough that it is assumed they cover this.
Live Poker: No, you can‘t play poker for money, however there are bar poker free-entry games and leagues where prizes can be won without having to pay an entry fee. The bars add the prizes, and make their money back from the additional drinkers in their bars.
Online Poker: No, it is not expected that Georgia will join the list of States regulating online poker at any point soon.
Sports Betting: No, unlike other States there is not even pari-mutuel horse and dog racing allowed. Since this kind of racing can‘t take place on boats the only options are to travel West to Arkansas or South to Florida.
Lottery Betting: Yes, there has been a lottery since 1992, which has proven to be very popular among residents.
Bingo Games: Yes, charity bingo games and raffles are permitted in Georgia.
While the history of gambling goes way back to the Southern Lotteries of the 1840’s – more recent legislation has been almost completely anti-gambling. The State code criminalizes the act of betting and owning a ‘gambling device’ even if that device has never been used for gambling.
Here are the key parts of the current State legislation:
This is the very strict part covering Gambling Devices:
The one silver-lining in an otherwise extremely tough anti-gambling code is that the individual players caught gambling are only guilty of a misdemeanor. Those organizing or earning money from illegal gambling activity are treated far more harshly.
Here is a timeline of key gambling legislation events in Georgia:
1976: A constitutional amendment legalizes Bingo for non-profit organizations with strictly limited terms and prizes not exceeding $1500 per day or $3000 per week.
1992: Georgia Lottery created, with the first draw taking place on June the 39th 1993. Profits from this are used to enhance education funding in the State.
2000: Legal loophole sees the proliferation of Video Poker machines throughout the State, this is abruptly closed in 2002.
2011: Crackdown on Internet cafes which were set up as gambling outlets announced.
2012: The Senate vote to establish a casino with the intention of funding the community college program. This follows a model already working well in neighboring Arkansas. The bill was not signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal, who reportedly wanted to see a larger majority in favor before proceeding.
Things are difficult for Georgia residents, with very few options for gambling that do not involve either playing bingo or leaving the State borders. Tentative steps towards opening a State casino still face opposition – though momentum does seem to be building faster for horse racing.
This State will likely be the last to embrace online gambling – possibly only ahead of Utah. One thing is for certain in GA, the residents are creative, and will come up with some way or another of staying ahead of the law and enjoying the online games.
Early History of The Southern Lotteries (covers several States)
Charity Gambling Laws
Peach Pundit (local politics blog, Lottery and scholarships debate)
GA Code (Need to drill down to find the gambling laws, only the main URL works for visits)
Summary Of Laws