There have been small pushes in the state of Georgia over the last several years to legalize casino gambling, but not until last week has there been any sort of progress in the state capitol. It is a very small step, but on Friday, March 1st, the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee unanimously passed a resolution that would put the decision on casino gambling to the people in next year’s elections.
House Resolution 327 is quite simple: it would allow voters in the November 2020 election to vote on whether or not they would approve of resort casinos in the Peach State. The summary of the Resolution is as follows:
A RESOLUTION proposing an amendment to the Constitution so as to authorize the General Assembly to provide by law for the local authorization of a limited number of licensed destination resort facilities casino resorts within the state; to authorize the operation and regulation of limited casino gaming within the state; to provide for related matters; to provide for the submission of this amendment for ratification or rejection; and for other purposes.
The Resolution’s sponsor, Ron Stephens (R – Savannah), who is also the chairman of the committee that passed it, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “This bill does one thing and one thing only. It allows the public to finally make a decision on whether they want to have destination (gaming) resorts or not.”
The Resolution’s success in the committee may have been helped by House Speaker David Ralston’s comments on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Lawmakers” the previous day.
“I have some serious concerns, on a personal level, on gambling. But I have to set those aside and recognize there’s actually a tremendous amount of support around the state for having one or two casinos here in Georgia,” he said.
Ralston added that he’s “hearing from House members and people around the state that there’s an appetite to let the people vote” on gambling.
Earlier in the week, a spokesman for Governor Brian Kemp told the AJC that he feels similarly to Ralston. He does not like gambling, but “hardworking Georgians will have the ultimate say if a constitutional amendment is placed on the ballot.”
The viewpoints on both sides are largely what one would expect in the gambling debate. Those for casinos anticipate the jobs, investments, and tourist/convention traffic resort properties could bring, while those against gambling are worried about crime and addiction.
In Georgia, though, the biggest reason why lawmakers are becoming more amenable to the idea of casino gambling is to fund the HOPE Scholarship, a program which funds state pre-K programs and provides students with partial tuition for in-state colleges and universities. Proceeds from the lottery pay for the HOPE Scholarship, but the program has become so successful over the years that funds have dwindled. As a result, benefits have been cut and more recently, academic rigor requirements have been put in place in order to make the scholarship more difficult to earn.
Gaming tax revenue from casinos would be used to bolster the HOPE Scholarship.