Georgia state lawmakers are looking at new kinds of gambling in the state, including casinos, horse-racing and sports betting. A state senate study committee had its first meeting Tuesday at the Georgia Lottery. That’s Georgia’s existing form of legal gambling, created in 1992. It funds things like the HOPE scholarship and Georgia’s Pre-K program.
A proposal for a voter referendum on a constitutional amendment to legalize horse racing stalled in the state Senate earlier this year. But that hasn’t deterred its chief supporter, state Sen. Brandon Beach, who is leading the study committee.
He said he’s still interested in the issue particularly because of a recent Supreme Court decision allowing for sports betting, as well as the governor’s recent request for state budget cuts across the board.
“We also need to be able to look at other revenue streams to be able to fund things like the HOPE scholarship,” he said.
Beach said Georgia is missing a revenue opportunity as Georgians drive to other states to gamble.
“I want the voters to have the right to vote for this. And I’ll tell you, I think the voters are educated, the voters are smart,” he said. “And I think the voters would pass any constitutional amendment on gaming with 70% of the vote.”
Beach said he’s interested in the new revenue stream and the jobs in rural Georgia that could come with horse racing and casinos. A state House study committee on this topic is also happening this fall, considering the industry as a revenue source for a broader range of programs, including health care and rural broadband.
State Sen. Ed Harbison, who is from Columbus and on the study committee, said he supports the idea of expanding this industry because it might fund more need-based scholarships, as opposed to the merit-based scholarships currently offered by the HOPE scholarship. Plus, he said, some people just like to gamble and should be able to vote on the issue themselves.
“There are people driving to Cherokee, North Carolina, Montgomery, Alabama [to gamble] …they do it because it’s something they want to do,” he said. “I know people who are Christians who do that.”
Mike Griffin, who represents the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said expanding gambling seems like a slippery slope.
“One day it’ll be marijuana, God forbid one day it will be prostitution,” he said. “When you begin to legalize social vices it just has a backdoor effect that ends up being more devastating than if you do nothing.”
Gov. Brian Kemp has said he doesn’t support casinos. But a constitutional amendment, necessary for casinos or horseracing, doesn’t require his signature.