Georgia Casino Bill in Peril, Hearing Canceled Due to Lack of Interest

Posted on: February 26, 2017, 02:00h. 

Last updated on: February 25, 2017, 11:36h.

Georgia’s casino legislation was apparently snubbed by a Senate committee on Thursday, but can Senator Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) still drum up the support he needs to push it out of the Senate and into the House by the early March deadline?

He’s not giving up hope.  

Senator Brandon Beach’s casino bill in trouble
Senator Brandon Beach hopes to rally the troops to fast-track his bill through the Senate but according to at least one of his colleagues it may already be dead. (Image: wabe.org)

Beach’s bill has been described by local press as “on life support” following the cancellation of a Senate committee hearing this week.

It was hoped that SB 79, which proposes legalizing two casinos in a state, would be more palatable to lawmakers than last year’s ill-fated effort because it proposes fewer casinos and a higher percentage of funding for school programs.

The bill wants to put the question to the public in November 2018 referendum, asking voters whether they want to change the constitution to permit casino gaming.  

One Foot in the Grave

It was largely well received at its first hearing several weeks ago, a public debate organized by the Regulated Industries Committee.

Even Governor Nathan Deal, a longtime casino opponent, is, for once, not in outright opposition. He has said he he is willing “to keep the discussion going” with casino supporters.

But on late Wednesday Senator Rick Jeffares notified members of the Regulated Industries Committee that the planned meeting would not go ahead. A committee member told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in confidence that Jeffares had polled the committee and “opposition was overwhelming so he told me there would be no hearing.”

The anonymous Senator added that has far, as he could see, the bill was “sounding pretty dead.”

Undeterred, Beach said on Thursday that he would apply to have the hearing rescheduled and is confident he can rally the troops behind him.

“I have asked to be on the agenda Monday,” he said. “That will give me more time to shore up the votes. It’s real close right now.”

Support in the House

One of the proposed casino licenses would be for a development in the Metro Atlanta area and another in a smaller city, possibly Savannah or Columbus.

Developers would need to guarantee investment of at least $2 billion in the Atlanta resort and a minimum of $450 million in the secondary resort.

But before any of that can happen, Beach needs to get it out of the committee, passed by the Senate, and into the House by a March 3 “cross over day,” which is looking like an increasingly tall order.

“I think if we can get this into the chamber, more people are for it,” Beach said. “We have to get it out of committee.”

A poll organized by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggests there is public support for casinos. It found 56 percent of registered voters supported the idea, with only 38 percent opposed.