Georgia is a conservative southern state with little in the way of gambling. Charitable gaming was approved in 1976. A state lottery was approved through a constitutional referendum in 1992.
The state accidentally legalized video poker and keno in the 1990’s and repealed it in 2002. In doing this, the state made another error that permitted slots that require some level of skill. This was converted into a taxed video lottery in 2013. In 2012, the state lottery started selling tickets online. This includes instant games that mimic slot machines.
There have been several attempts to legalize horseracing and casinos in the state. Neither activity has found any traction in the legislature.
An attempt to legalize daily fantasy sports failed in 2018 after the state attorney general determined the games to be against state law. Even with that opinion, major operators still accept Georgians. A sports betting bill is expected to be introduced in 2020, though there appears to be little in the way of support for it. It is likely a casino bill will also be filed in the General Assembly.
Here’s what’s legal in Georgia right now:
- Traditional scratch-off lottery tickets: Only at retailers
- Lotto and keno tickets: Online and at retailers
- Online tickets: Similar to online slots, available at lottery website
- Charity gaming: Bingo and raffles only at registered charities
- Video lottery slots: At taverns and convenience stores
Online Gambling in Georgia
The only form of legal online gambling in Georgia is through the state lottery. Lotto tickets and keno tickets, as well as instant games, are sold on the state lottery’s website. Players must be Georgia residents to participate in online gaming. Those without a valid Georgia ID may not play.
Keno drawings are held every 3.5 minutes, 16 hours a day. Online lottery sales are available from 7am to 11pm daily.
The official website for online lottery games in GA is:
Land-based Casinos in Georgia
There are no land-based casinos in Georgia. Residents do have some nearby options, though.
Those in the Atlanta area may head to Harrah’s Cherokee or Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River in North Carolina. These casinos are two to three hours from metro Atlanta.
Residents in South Georgia may head to the coast and get on a casino cruise or visit card clubs or Seminole casinos in Florida. In western parts of the state, casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast or Tunica may be the closest.
Sports Betting in Georgia
Sports betting is not legal in Georgia, but lawmakers are working on changing that.
In 2021, lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced similar GA sports betting bills (HB 86 and SB 142) to authorize statewide online betting. The two bills are similar in most aspects, but there are several noteworthy differences:
- Both would permit operators to apply for licenses to offer online sports betting and mobile betting apps in Georgia
- Both would establish the Georgia Lottery as the regulatory body over sports betting
- Neither bill has provisions in place for retail sportsbooks – both are online and mobile only
- HB 86 prohibits all college betting
- SB 142 allows college sports betting but prohibits wagers on games involving Georgia universities
Poker in Georgia
Commercial poker rooms are not legal in Georgia. Residents will find poker tournaments in taverns. These have no buy-in. This makes these freerolls legal as there is no consideration (paid entry fees), as described by Georgia law. Bars award tabs and cash prizes to winners.
Home Poker Games
Georgia law does not permit home poker games. Section 16-12-20 of the Georgia Criminal Code defines a place of gambling as “any real estate used for the purposes of gambling.” This means that any establishment or residence where a poker game takes place for money is an illegal gambling establishment, according to the law.
Those that spread illegal poker games, or any other form of gambling, may run into more than criminal legal action. Georgia law permits losers to recover losses from a house or winner if a legal action is pursued within six months of the illegal activity.
Fantasy Sports in Georgia
Daily fantasy sports are not expressly legal in Georgia. No law covers the games. However, major operators still accept players from the state. This includes DraftKings, FanDuel, Yahoo and Fantasy Draft.
These fantasy sports companies have no concern with the legality of the games in Georgia, even after the state attorney general’s office opined that the games violated state gambling laws.
The Georgia Lottery was approved by voters in a November 1992 constitutional referendum. The goal was to fund college scholarships for state residents. The first scratch-off tickets were sold in June 1993. Lottery sales records were smashed, and the lottery managed to repay its start-up loans in just two weeks.
In creating the state lottery, voters gave all gambling activities in the state to it. The Georgia Lottery introduced several forms of gambling over the years. It started with traditional scratch-off tickets and moved to intrastate lotteries that same year. Interstate lottos and keno were added the following year.
The Georgia Lottery kept this traditional package of games until 2012. That is when the state started selling tickets online. Georgians can buy tickets for lotto and keno drawings on the state lottery’s website. There are also instant games, which play like slot machines.
Lotto Games Offered by Georgia Lottery
- Fantasy 5
- Jumbo Bucks Lotto
- Cash 3
- Cash 4
- Georgia Five
- All or Nothing
- 5 Card Cash
- Mega Millions
- All or Nothing
Georgia Video Lottery
In 2013, the Georgia Legislature tackled an issue that plagued the state for more than a decade. Convenience stores and bars found a loophole in a video gambling law that permitted slots that required some skill. The skills are minimal on these machines, such as picking a reel and moving the symbol on it up or down to create a potential win, or locking reels on an initial spin, using a second one to complete the game.
The solution found by the legislature was to add these games to the list regulated by the Georgia Lottery. This taxed the games, albeit at a rate of only 5%, to grow to 10% over the years. The state lottery required connection to its servers to determine revenues. However, many operators ignored the law and continue to spread the games with no taxation or regulation.
The Georgia video lottery games are different than those found in other states. Retailers may not pay cash for winnings. These must be awarded in gift cards, store credit or lottery tickets. Alcohol and tobacco products are not permitted as prizes.
Games of Skill
Section 16-12-20 of the Georgia Criminal Code excludes certain forms of wagering from the definition of gambling:
An offer of a prize, award, or compensation to the actual contestants in any bona fide contest for the determination of skill, speed, strength, or endurance or to the owners of animals, vehicles, watercraft, or aircraft entered in such contest.
Games of skill among participants is expressly legal in Georgia through this language. This tends to cover athletic competitions when the bettors are also the players. It also tends to permit tournaments in other games where there is substantial skill and a participant pays an entry fee.
It is illegal for others to bet on such a competition. Any event that includes any element of chance is illegal to bet on in the state unless it is operated by the state lottery.
Esports are not addressed in Georgia law. Participants placing wagers amongst themselves would appear to fall under the skill game language described above. Others betting on these games would be illegal.
Traditional Online Skill Games
WorldWinner and King Games, among others, accept Georgians to play in their online skill game competitions. On the other hand, WPT Online, which tends to lean on sweepstakes laws, does not accept players from the state.
Skill-based Gaming Machines
Skill-based gaming machines are only legal if licensed through the Georgia Lottery.
Georgia Gambling Laws
The Georgia Lottery and charitable bingos and raffles are the only forms of legalized gambling in Georgia. The lottery is given sole authority to regulate gambling in the state. However, expansion of most forms of gambling require a constitutional amendment that requires approval by the legislature and voters.
There are two agencies that enforce and regulate gaming laws in the state:
Georgia Lottery Law
The Georgia Lottery was created through the Georgia Lottery for Education Act. It permits the lottery to sell traditional tickets and other games of chance with specific drawing times. This includes intrastate and interstate lotto games, as well as keno drawings every 3.5 minutes most hours of the day.
The Georgia Lottery expanded in 2012. Regulators determined that it was within its discretion to sell lottery tickets over the internet, becoming the second state to do so after Michigan. Lotto and keno tickets are sold on the Georgia Lottery’s website.
There are also instant games that are essentially online slot pulls. These return 70 to 80 percent. Online lottery customers must be Georgia residents.
In 2013, the state legislature gave the lottery another industry to regulate through HR 487. Video lottery machines are slots with a small amount of skill involved by the player. State law requires machine owners to connect the devices to a state database that determines revenues generated. Taxes are levied on this profit, as well as an annual fee on each device that start at $1,250.
The tax rate for Georgia’s video lottery started at 5% in fiscal year 2013. It went up 1% each year until it capped at 10%. This makes the Georgia video lottery games pay the lowest tax of any similar industry in other states.
The Georgia Constitution forbids casinos and all games typically found in one.
Georgia Video Poker Laws
In the 1990’s, South Carolina banned video poker. Many of those machines moved west into Georgia, aided by a law that intended to legalize amusement games at businesses like Dave and Busters. Players were able to insert cash into video poker and keno machines and win prizes like gift cards, tobacco and gasoline. Many video poker owners paid cash illegally. In 2002, Governor Roy Barnes called a special legislative session to put an end to the state’s video poker industry. The following language was added to the gambling definition in the state:
Any video game machine or device, operated for any consideration, for the play of poker, blackjack, any other card game, or keno or any simulation or variation of any of the foregoing, including, but not limited to, any game in which numerals, numbers, or any pictures, representations, or symbols are used as an equivalent or substitute for cards in the conduct of such game.
After a superior court judge sided with video poker owners, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned that decision and took the state’s position that the ban on video poker was constitutional and not overly broad.
Registered charities in the state may offer bingo and raffles. Section 2, Paragraph VIII of the Georgia Constitution passed in 1976 to allow for these games. When the games went live, the state quickly realized that legitimate charities struggled to compete with illegitimate ones due to the law lacking any enforcement mechanism. In 1977, the state legislature passed a law that compelled the Georgia Department of Revenue to regulate charitable gaming. In 1980, enforcement moved to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) through legislative action.
Georgia authorities estimate that bingo games generate about $24 million in annual gross revenues. The games returned about $16 million of that money to players. There are 137 active bingo licensees in the state. The average charity generates about $143,000 per year, according to the GBI.
Online Gambling Laws
The Georgia Lottery is the only entity that is permitted to offer online gambling in the state. This include sales of instant games, lotto tickets and keno numbers. Daily fantasy sports are considered illegal in Georgia, according to an opinion from the state attorney general. However, most operators still accept players from the state.
Georgia Poker Laws
Georgia does not permit any poker game, commercially or socially, if players are required to pay to enter the game. Poker games with no buy-in may give away cash or prizes.
Sports Betting Laws
Sports betting is expressly illegal, as stated in the Georgia Constitution. State lawmakers plan on introducing a bill to change that in 2020.
Racing Betting Laws
Pari-mutuel betting on dog and horse racing is expressly illegal, as stated in the Georgia Constitution.