Georgia Gaming Fight Intensifies, as State Lawmakers Continue Arguing Potential Benefits and Harms

Posted on: September 9, 2019, 11:26h. 

Last updated on: September 9, 2019, 12:04h.

Georgia lawmakers have varying opinions regarding the potential benefits and drawbacks of legalizing certain forms of gambling, and the heated fight is intensifying on both sides of the controversial issue.

Georgia gambling casino legislation
Conservative Georgia lawmakers like Wes Cantrell don’t want gambling to come to the state. (Image: Wes Cantrell/Facebook)

Proponents say casinos could deliver critical revenue to assist in funding the state’s HOPE Scholarship (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally). The fund originated in 1992, and to date has provided more than $10 billion of financial assistance for post-high school education.

The Georgia Lottery funds the scholarship program. The lottery said it experienced a record 12-month period in terms of profits in the 2018 fiscal year, with more than $1.14 billion generated for HOPE.

But some state lawmakers believe casinos – unlike the lottery – would not only generate education money, but also bring thousands of new jobs to the Peach State.

Gaming Pros

Georgia is one of just eight states that doesn’t have commercial or tribal casinos.

According to the American Gaming Association (AGA), commercial casinos in the 24 states where they’re legal reported gross gaming revenue (GGR) of $41.7 billion last year, up 3.4 percent. The casinos delivered nearly $10 billion worth of taxes to local and state governments. Tribal casinos are estimated to have sent roughly $15 billion to their states, as dictated by their gaming compacts.

“We have the lottery, and that doesn’t create a lot of jobs,” Georgia Senator Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This would create thousands of jobs. That’s what I like about it.”

Determining specific forms of gaming that would be legalized would impact subsequent GGR and taxes. Some lawmakers favor full-scale casinos with sports betting, while others believe approving horse racing should be Georgia’s first foray into the business of betting.

Thirteen states now have sports betting operational. The closest to Georgia is in Mississippi. However, sports betting laws have been passed in nearby Tennessee and North Carolina.

Gaming Cons

Georgia is in the Bible Belt, with the Pew Research Center reporting that 66 percent of Peach State residents say they’re “highly religious.” That ranks Georgia No. 8 as the most-religious state. Seventy-nine percent of Georgians identify as Christians.   

The leading opponent to casino gaming in Georgia is state Rep. Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock), a pastor.

While there would likely be some revenue increases due to gambling, this revenue would be more than offset by the increased costs to our state due to gambling addiction, sex trafficking, loss of jobs, less spending by those who gamble, small businesses closing, increased crime, and bankruptcies,” Cantrell recently opined.

State lawmakers don’t possess the power to legalize commercial gaming. Instead, such approval would need to come from voters in a statewide referendum. Cantrell says it won’t be a fair fight if the issue goes to the polls.

“The casino industry will spend millions of dollars on lobbying, TV and radio ads, social networking and direct mail to convince Georgians that legalized gambling will usher in an economic utopia like our state has never seen. Those opposed to gambling have little, if any, money to spend on accurately presenting the opposing view,” Cantrell said via Facebook last week.