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Georgia Gambling Expansion Efforts Slow Going in Legislature

Last week, a House panel in Georgia met not one, but three different times to study the subject of gambling expansion in the state. The hearings are not being held in a traditional manner and it seems lawmakers are not any closer to passing legislation than they have been in the past. To allow casinos, horse racing and sports betting in the state, each chamber of legislation must agree to put a constitutional amendment up for vote. So far, this has yet to happen.

Repeatedly Shot Down

Every year, hundreds of thousands of dollars come into the state via the gaming industry in the hopes that lobbyists can get lawmakers to support expanding the industry. Despite this effort, gambling bills created are shot down year after year.

Every session with gambling bill consideration starts out optimistically. It seems that lawmakers are in favor of more casinos and horse racing options. This year proponents were optimistic due to Governor Brian kemp stating that spending will be cut in the state budget. This had many feeling that lawmakers would be on board for a gambling expansion as it would bring more money to the state.

Supporters feel that an expansion would bring not only jobs but also money need for the HOPE scholarship program. The program is currently funded by the lottery. Despite growing support, Georgia is a conservative state and religious organizations and conservative groups push their agenda that any type of gambling is immoral and breeds crime due to addiction.

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Governor Kemp has stated in the past that he is not in favor of casino gambling. However, he will not stop an amendment from going to the voters for consideration, if the option guarantees that revenues will go to the HOPE program.

Summer Study

Over the summer, a committee was created by House Speaker David Ralston in an effort to find ways to increase the revenues of the state. The panel was focusing strongly on gambling and how additions could be made to bring in more money.

During such meetings of the committee, it was discussed as to how the industry would be regulated, if voters approved it. Last week, representatives from the gaming industry pitched their operations and how they could focus on efforts in the state. On hand were individuals from MGM Resorts, Georgia Horse Racing Coalition and other groups. Each focused on their operations in other states and their successes.

Amazingly, these operators have hired a minimum of 30 lobbyists to push for gambling in Georgia. They are seemingly not having a large effect on the potential for gambling to come to the state via casinos or sports betting.

If lawmakers choose to move forward with an expansion, they will have to figure out which format will be offered. It could be casinos, sports betting, horse racing or a combination of a few or all three. For now, the process remains slow going and it does not seem that this year will be fruitful.

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