The stances on football and betting in the southern states is typically of one ilk: A strong yea on the former and a vociferous nay on the latter. Well, in Georgia, both takes are even more extreme. Since the days when the colonies were answering to King George, betting has been heartily frowned upon in Georgia. In fact, since the 19th century, far more activity has been seen in the busting of illegal gambling operations than in progressive regulatory proposals in Georgia.
As for football, maybe one another state – good old Texas – can claim to be madder about the gridiron game than Georgia, and that ain’t by much. Every Georgian takes pride in those Atlanta Falcons, and the Georgia Bulldogs are popular enough in their neck of the woods that wide swathes of the state may as well officially shut down when the Dawgs are playing.
Betting in Georgia
Yes, gambling was among the forbidden activities when the colony of Georgia was founded by the British in 1733. By the 1750s, however, this bit of the law was either forgotten or ignored as the states headed toward revolution, using lotteries for internal improvements and, in the case of southern states, to beef up the militia in advance of the Civil War. In 1878, though, the Georgia state legislature enacted a ban on state lotteries, a prohibition that would not be overturned until the 1990s.
In fact, a comprehensive ban on all forms of betting in Georgia remained in place until 1976 and then only charity bingos and raffles were made permissible by letter of the law.
An interesting bit of (ultimately failed) legal wrangling went down in 1999-2000. After nearby South Carolina’s legislators cracked down on gambling law in the state, several hundred video poker machines were brought across the border. The owner/operators of these machines and other newly-founded gaming halls claimed that, under state law, provided that tickets were dispensed rather than actual cash from the machines, video poker was perfectly legal in Georgia. Naturally, the state courts didn’t see things that way and said loopholes were tightly closed by 2002.
From about 2004 through to the present day, Georgia’s law enforcement officials have kept busy busting internet cafes allowing play at internet casinos. At the height of such police actions, the state legislature actually passed a bill allowing for the establishment of a single casino in the state in 2012. However, governor Nathan Deal has left the bill unsigned since its passage; Deal will remain in office (barring the unforeseen) through 2018.
Football in Georgia
Before the Falcons were born in 1966, the burgeoning “New South” was bereft of top-level professional football in an area bordered on the west by Dallas, the east by Miami and the north by Washington, D.C. Thus did the true Deep South finally won an NFL teem with the ’66 Atlanta Falcons – the same year the MLB’s Braves moved into town. Interestingly, though Atlanta now has franchises in each of the “big four” sports, the Falcons are Atlanta’s sole original pro team.
As is the way for many expansion teams, the Falcons took some time learning how to win, not posting an over-.500 record until 1971. The Falcons’ first truly notable squad was the ’80 team of QB Steve Bartkowski which went 12-4. The “Dirty Birds” have never been perpetual contenders, but are usually in the mix: Between 2002 and ’17, the Falcons earned 10 playoff bids. They’ve made the Super Bowl twice and as plucky underdogs had much of uncommitted fandom on their side against John Elway’s Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XIII and against Tom Brady’s New England Patriots in LI, but alas.
College football in Georgia isn’t entirely about the University of Georgia Bulldogs, but an outsider could certainly not be blamed for thinking so. Even the team’s origins are steeped in regional importance: Georgia’s first game against Mercer was the first-ever played between two Deep South schools, and the second game faced ’em off against Auburn to trigger a rivalry comparable to Yale-Harvard or Army-Navy, which 122 total meetings between the two having gone down since 1892.
Georgia’s winning ways didn’t truly begin until 1910, when W.A. Cunningham took over as head coach. Cunningham ultimately ran the team for 10 seasons – going 43-18-9 in that time – whereas no previous Georgia coach had lasted more than two. The winning continued after Cunningham moved on to SMU: Over the next 40 seasons, the team would post a winning percentage of over .600 some 21 times, and just thrice post a losing record (in 1925, ’28 and ’32).
Following the 1941 season, the Bulldogs scored their first bowl-game invite, topping the TCU Horned Frogs, 40-26, in the Orange Bowl and ending the year ranked no. 14. The following year, they won the Rose Bowl and finished no. 2. Since that first Orange Bowl appearance, the Bulldogs had appeared in 54 bowls total through 2017, winning 31; Georgia has not been denied a bowl-game invite since 1998.
The Bulldogs have two national championships to their credit, but their most recent try at a bid resulted in an unfortunate overtime loss to the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide, an L sandwiched between the Falcons’ egregious Super Bowl fail and the same team’s limp-ass exit from the 2018 playoffs – a miserable 12 months for fans of football in Georgia.
Of course, Georgia wasn’t always the state’s football power. Heck, there’s still a Georgia school that can claim *four* national titles: The Georgia Tech Yellowjackets. Though the Yellowjackets’ history contains far more ups and downs than the Bulldogs’ – those championships were won in 1917, ’28, ’52 and ’90, for example – but is no less storied. College Hall of Fame coaches John Heisman, William Alexander and Bobby Dodd enjoyed long tenures with the school, bringing Georgia Tech 13 conference titles, a 6-2 mark in bowl games and five undefeated seasons between 1916 and ’52.
And oh yes, Georgia Tech is the team that laid down the infamous 222-0 über-beatdown on hapless Cumberland College in 1916. Who says karma is a bitch?
Then there are the Georgia State Panthers. The Panthers’ not-so-long history goes back all the way to 2010, when they first fielded a team. Incredibly, the Panthers went 6-5 in their inaugural season, a record made all the more impressive considering that they’d go a cumulative 5-41 in their next four seasons. Going into 2018, in fact, Georgia State has accumulated the lowest winning percentage -- .287 – in college football of all-time, some 14½ games worse than the 2013-born University of Charlotte 49ers.
Since we live in an age of gimme bowl invites, however, the Panthers have actually appeared in two bowl games, winning their first in 2017 by defeating the 6-6 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the Cure Bowl.
Betting on football in Georgia
Currently, the law – and enforcement of said law – are pretty serious. Georgia’s basic state law on betting reads, “A person who commits the offense of commercial gambling shall be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years or by a fine not to exceed $20,000, or both.” And just in case you got any ideas, advertising any sort of gaming to Georgia citizens is also illegal, and even “a person who commits the offense of communicating gambling information” (gulp) faces five years in the slammer and a $5000 fine.
As for daily fantasy football betting, legislation specific to DFS games was introduced into the state legislature in 2016, but through ’17, nothing has advanced on this bill. One shouldn’t be too optimistic about any betting law changing for the better any time soon in Georgia. There is a reason, after all, why the state is consistently lumped in with Utah and Hawaii in questions of betting: Georgia is among the hardest of the hardcore.