State GOP in Georgia Resurrects Moral Opposition to Casino Possibilities

Posted on: August 7, 2017, 04:38h. 

Last updated on: August 7, 2017, 05:53h.

Like many states across the country, Georgia has been considering legislative proposals to legalize various forms of gambling. But unlike many states, proponents in Georgia are facing fierce opposition from a Republican party pushing long-disputed talking points about casino ills.

John Watson, Georgia GOP chair supports gambling
John Watson, a former casino lobbyist and recently elected chair of the Georgia GOP, had to recuse himself from a Saturday vote on a resolution calling casino gambling destructive and disastrous. (Image: YouTube)

The Georgia GOP state committee passed a resolution over the weekend outlining the “societal costs” of legalizing casinos and horse racing, in an effort to get ahead of promised 2018 legislation aiming to do just that.

“Once the gambling industry is allowed to operate legally in the state, its lobbying power will grow and increase its influence over legislators and local community officials,” the resolution read.

The group is strongly against bringing in casinos in any form. They cite increased crime, higher divorce rates, job loss, child neglect, and domestic violence all as resulting from legalized casinos. The state committee is seen as a major influencer how Georgia’s Republican lawmakers vote.

The new anti-gambling resolution originally was going to include language opposing daily fantasy sports, but in the end left DFS out of it.

Republican vs. Republican

The Georgia legislature considered different bills in 2017 looking to legalize casinos, horse racing, and DFS. Ultimately, they all died, or were tabled. But bill sponsors said they would be back next year.

Two Republicans sponsored bills to allow casinos. Sen. Brandon Beach saw his SB 79 fail to get out of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee. He told the Atlanta Journal Constitution he would retry the legislation next year.

“I am not discouraged,” Beach said at the time. “I will double down and plan to crisscross the state starting in April.”

Similarly, State Rep. Ron Stephens, also a Republican, saw his HB 158, which set up a regulatory framework for casinos, fail to make it to the House floor for a vote.

“We’re going to take a deep breath and come back and look at it some over the interim,” he said. “We want to keep the discussion going.”

Both lawmakers point to the benefits casinos could have. They mentioned how the Georgia lottery funds in-state college tuition and pre-K programs.

Pre-Emptive Strike

The casino industry thought they had a path into Georgia when the GOP state committee elected John Watson, who is pro-gaming and has worked as a lobbyist for Boyd Gaming, as chairman in June. But because of that connection and potential conflict, he recused himself from the weekend vote.

Local radio host (and brief 2012 presidential contender) Herman Cain championed the moral turpitude message to the GOP state committee delegates, predicting disaster should casino legislation be allowed to move forward.

“I’ll tell you a little secret,” Cain said, “casino gambling doesn’t cover your problems, it increases your problems.”

While the resolution doesn’t carry with it the force of law, it does set forth a preferred policy position for Republicans, who are sure to be lobbied by casino interests between now and next year.

To that extent, the state GOP committee’s move could have the intended effect of stopping any legislative momentum for 2018 before it even gets started.