Georgia Lawmakers Take Different Approach to Gambling Expansion

Georgia capital building

30-second summary

  • Two Georgia lawmakers search for alternatives to see gambling grow in the state
  • One effort will be letting voters decide if gambling should be allowed
  • Another effort will pursue horse-racing legislation

Efforts to expand gambling in the state of Georgia to include casino gaming have continued to fail. Two lawmakers have now decided to take a different approach, aiming for expansion rather than adding casinos. One effort will focus on allowing voters to decide if gambling should be allowed. Another will be legislation involving horse racing.

Finding a new path

In the past, supporters of gambling expansion in Georgia have stated that thousands of jobs could be created if casinos were allowed. Hundreds of millions of dollars could also be generated to assist education programs. The Georgia Lottery currently funds programs such as the HOPE scholarship. This program could benefit even more from revenues generated from casino gaming.

Conservative groups have remained opposed to any expansion. The consensus is that gambling is immoral and conservatives also feel that the activity will breed crime in the region.

Lawmakers who have tried to pass legislation have faced opposition in the past from Governor Nathan Deal and Lt. Governor Casey Cagle. They are no longer in office, so the hope is that new legislation might have a chance to move forward. New Governor Brian Kemp and Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan have stated they are opposed to casinos. However, they have yet to state if they are opposed to other forms of gambling.

Ask the people

One new tactic that the Legislature is considering is to ask the people of the state what they want. House Economic Development and Tourism Chairman Ron Stephens has decided to stop pushing for casino gambling. He will instead work to ask residents how they feel about any gambling in the state, including the current lottery.

Stephens said: “We’ve had the lottery for more than 25 years. We’re at that point after 25 years that we need to reassess if we want to do it or we don’t want to do it.”

The lottery has been in existence since 1993. Money from the state lottery funds HOPE scholarships. The scholarships go to hundreds of thousands of students who attend the public and private colleges in Georgia.

Stephens will file legislation to create a gaming commission that would oversee all types of gambling in Georgia. A question would be placed on the ballot to ask residents if they approve of the activity.

If voters were to say yes to gambling, the commission could then consider what types will be offered and begin implementation. Despite this new effort, there will still be conservative groups that are opposed. Groups such as the Faith and Freedom Coalition of Georgia plan to fight any attempt to expand gambling in the state.

Another tactic

In a separate effort, State Senator Brandon Beach plans to focus on horse racing. Beach feels that the state needs to expand its presence in this area. In the past, proposed legislation has involved creating racinos, where slot gaming or other options would be offered alongside horse racing. However, such efforts have failed.

Beach will be working on legislation that focuses on horse racing because the state is near Florida, where 80,000 horses train. The Republican feels that horse racing would provide more than gambling revenues. The state could get started with horse farms as well as hay farms, breeding, and auctions.

The bill being considered by Beach would provide a percentage of revenues to the HOPE program as well as the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. Plans are to introduce the horse racing bill this week.