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Abrams leans into legalizing sports betting in Georgia as Kemp's lead widens

The effort, which includes a new spate of ads, emphasizes another policy difference between the two and could help Abrams make up ground in the key swing state.
Stacy Abrams Weighs Her Future
Stacey Abrams at the Carter Center in Atlanta on April 23, 2019.Elijah Nouvelage for The Washington Post via Getty Images file

With polls showing Stacey Abrams trailing Gov. Brian Kemp, the Democratic challenger in Georgia’s governor's race has leaned heavily into highlighting her support for legalizing sports betting in the state.

Politics watchers say the effort is designed to emphasize another policy difference between Abrams and the Republican incumbent — and to help her make up ground in a race where polls have shown his lead widening in recent weeks. 

Abrams’ campaign has released a series of 15-second, 30-second and static ads that focus on her support for allowing sports betting and slam her opponent for his opposition. The ads were timed to the start of college football season, with many running on sites connected to Georgia Bulldogs college football and online sports betting.

“As governor, Stacey Abrams will work to legalize sports betting to invest in education for our young people,” a narrator says in one ad.

In another, a narrator says, “While Georgians still place bets, Kemp is forcing them out of state to do it, taking the tax dollars with them.” 

“That means even when Georgia wins the bet, states like Tennessee get the tax money,” the narrator ads. 

The ads followed a highly publicized speech by Abrams last month in which she outlined her broad economic agenda. In it, Abrams said that she supported a state constitutional amendment to legalize sports and casino gambling and that she would propose using the financial proceeds to fund educational initiatives like universal access to technical college, need-based financial aid for higher education and the funding of HOPE merit scholarships in the state.

More ads focused on the issue are forthcoming, a source with knowledge of the Abrams campaign’s plans told NBC News.

Abrams campaign spokesman Alex Floyd told NBC News that the "latest ads on sports betting are meant to draw attention to what Georgians already know: Gaming is happening in our state, but right now we are missing out on millions in revenue that could fund expanded access to higher education."

Kemp has opposed sports betting in the state since 2018, when a landmark Supreme Court ruling allowed for states to make it legal. Last month, Kemp said he remained opposed to any efforts to legalize it or casino gambling in the state, but a campaign spokesperson downplayed his opposition in a statement to NBC News.

“On sports betting, Governor Kemp has taken no position and would work alongside legislative leadership to determine the best path forward,” spokesman Tate Mitchell said.

Over the last four years, bills that would legalize sports betting in the state have stalled in the state Legislature.

Meanwhile, at least 31 states, including New York and New Jersey, have legalized sports betting in the years since the Supreme Court ruling. California could be next, depending on what voters decide on a pair of measures that will appear on the November ballot in the state.

Polling in Georgia has shown wide support for legalizing sports betting. A 2020 survey by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed that nearly 6 in 10 Georgia voters supported it.

Georgia political experts said that Kemp has largely remained opposed to the issue to maintain levels of support from evangelical voters in his base, who are staunchly against legalizing gambling.

That, they said, could give Abrams an opening to go after a chunk of voters who care about the issue while not alienating any of her own supporters. That could help her close a gap in polls that in recent weeks have shown Kemp widening a once narrow lead.

“For the Republicans, the problem is that there’s an important part of their base that is opposed to this, so it makes sense for Abrams to put this out there,” said Alan Abramowitz, an expert on Georgia elections and a political scientist at Emory University.

Real Clear Politics' latest polling average shows Kemp leading Abrams by 5.5 percentage points. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report has rated the race “lean Republican.”

“The general sense here is that Kemp is ahead, so it's probably wise to go after a segment of the electorate — even if it’s marginal — that cares about it while also not turning off anyone who would otherwise vote for Abrams,” Abramowitz added.