In the south, there are many regions where gambling is limited or nonexistent. In Alabama, gamblers have one tribal operated gaming venue, no lottery or other gaming options. In Mississippi, players have access to a handful of casinos and the lottery as well as sports betting. In nearby Georgia, options are limited, and lawmakers are currently considering what changes could be made to bring an expansion to the industry.
Casinos are apparently high on the list of options to consider when it comes to a gambling expansion. House Speaker David Ralston recently announced that a new committee would be created to consider ways for revenues to be increased in the state and one such way is casinos.
The House Special Committee on Economic Growth was created not long after Governor Brian Kemp told state agencies that they had to decrease their budgets. The panel consists of 15 members of the House and three committee chairmen run the show.
One person involved in the committee is Ron Stephens, a chairman of the group, who has tried for years to bring casino gaming to the state. According to Stephens, the group is going to look at all sources of revenues. However, for him, the republican would like to see the people of the state given the opportunity to vote on casino gaming.
If it were up to Stephens, the voters would have their say and if approved, an amendment would be made to the constitution that would create a gambling commission that could expand gambling in the state. The group would consider if the state should have casinos, horse racing, sports betting, etc.
The hope among gambling proponents is that the committee will be able to see that casino gaming would be a revenue source. Several bills have been introduced in the past that would have allowed casinos but have failed to gain traction among lawmakers.
Proposals would bring jobs to the state as well as hundreds of millions to the state’s Lottery funded education programs. The lottery offers several programs including the HOPE scholarship fund. Despite the assistance that casinos would bring, there are still those who remain opposed.
Because Georgia is a conservative state, faith leaders as well as conservative groups have stated they are opposed to any type of gambling expansion. They find the activity immoral as well as addictive leading to crime.
Others feel that the proposals are too optimistic when it comes to the revenue predictions. They feel that as other states nearby expand, then Georgia would be competing for customers.
Governor Kemp has stated that while he is opposed to casino gambling, he will not stop an amendment from going before voters if revenues are guaranteed to help the HOPE scholarship fund. In early August, the administration sent state agencies a memo where they said 4% cuts are to be made to budgets this year and a larger 6% cut by 2021 fiscal year which begins in July 2020.
Will the budget cuts be enough to persuade lawmakers to give a possible amendment vote a chance? Will the voters of the state be willing to vote yes and approve casinos? Over the years, it has proven to be difficult for conservative states to approve any type of gambling expansion. If the change does come to pass in the state it would be a major milestone for conservative states in the south regarding the gambling industry, a change that could push other conservative states towards gaming changes as well.