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As Lawmakers Discuss Gambling In Georgia, Critics Maintain Strong Opposition

Casino owners and even Atlanta's pro sports teams are among those in support of legalizing gambling in Georgia.
Casino owners and even Atlanta's pro sports teams are among those in support of legalizing gambling in Georgia.
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The promise of increased revenue has led state lawmakers to consider again making gambling legal in the state of Georgia.

Casino owners and even Atlanta’s pro sports teams are among those in support. Gaming that includes resort casinos, horse tracks and sports betting could, by some studies, bring in billions of dollars in revenue for the state.

But groups that have traditionally opposed gambling are not giving in.

Mike Griffin is with Georgia Baptist Mission Board. He says supporters of gambling are using “smoke and mirrors” to make it more palatable.

“We’ve got to call it, you know, some kind of rural development economic plan, we’ve got to call it ‘destination resort,'” Griffin said, referring to casinos that have hotels and entertainment venues connected to them.

Griffin pointed to instances of gambling, leading to crime and financial ruin. He also said he’s not swayed by the prospect of new jobs, new development and new sources of revenue touted by supporters.

“Money cannot be the standard for everything,” Griffin said. “In other words, just because it brings more money, it’s something that we’ve got to do. You can’t put money over morality.”

A House Special Committee on Economic Growth gathered Wednesday in Columbus to discuss gambling and drew remarks from Georgians on both sides of the issue.

“I don’t want to see the soul of Columbus, Georgia, – that which has been growing already – to be damaged,” said Mark Swift, a pastor who moved from Florida to Columbus in 2003 and opposes gambling. “But, yes to economic development, yes to jobs, yes to hotels and yes to things that are going to promote things that are going to bless this city.”

Rashida Ali, a Columbus native, has worked in radio for decades. She supports legalized gambling.

“People leave Georgia to go over to Alabama and Tennessee to gamble because there’s no law against gambling,” she said. “In order for us to have our community thrive, I support this activity for gaming in Georgia. I think economic development is definitely what Columbus needs.”

Next week, a Senate study committee on the topic is scheduled to meet for the fourth time this year.