In what might be a first for me in my nearly decade and a half here at Poker News Daily, I am writing about horse racing. I know nothing about horse racing beyond the “Let’s Go to the Races” VCR game that I played when I was a kid. But when I read that a Georgia Senate committee passed a resolution to legalize horse racing in the state, my eyebrows raised.
While just a tiny step in a process, the vote by the state Senate’s Economic Development and Tourism Committee to pass Senate Resolution 84 interests me for two reasons. First, I live in Georgia and the state is devoid of legal gambling aside from the lottery. And second, should horse racing – and the associated betting – become legal, that could open the door, at least a crack, for further expansion of gambling in the Peach State. It has always disappointed me that horse racing tends to be given more serious consideration by lawmakers around the country than does any other form of gambling, but I get it. Horse racing is a more traditionally accepted pastime than, say, online poker, and the horse racing industry has a strong lobby.
SR 84 is fairly simple, proposing a constitutional amendment to allow betting on horse racing and including it on a state referendum. A companion bill, SB 45, named the “Rural Georgia Jobs and Growth Act,” does the heavy lifting, setting forth the regulations and what-not. That one has also advanced through a committee vote.
The idea behind the push by the bills’ main sponsor, Senator Brandon Beach (R – Alpharetta), is to create jobs in rural Georgia, particularly in the southern part of the state.
“Rural Georgia will benefit from this,” Beach told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “There’s horse farms, hay farms, breeding and auctions. It will create thousands of jobs.”
Beach also believes the existence of horse tracks – the bills would authorize up to three of them – would give horse owners an incentive to stop in Georgia when they are traveling between Florida and Kentucky, two racing hotbeds. He says there are 80,000 horses that travel through Georgia annually.
As expected, there are the usual opponents of the bill, typically religious and conservative groups.
One member of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee, Jeff Mullis, isn’t buying what they are selling, when it comes to the morality argument. “This is all about jobs because gambling is already legal in Georgia,” he said.
There has been talk for several years about the possibility of legalizing casino gambling in Georgia and Beach has been one of the leaders of that effort. Apart from jobs, the main reason for the desire to expand gambling in the state is to support Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship, which is currently funded by the lottery. The HOPE Scholarship funds public Pre-K programs and provides tuition money to college students attending in-state schools, provided they maintain high enough grades.
The HOPE Scholarship has been so popular, though, that lottery funding is having trouble keeping up. Thus, benefits have been reduced in recent years and stricter academic rigor requirements have been implemented.