Georgia Considers a Bill to Legalize Casino Gambling in the 2017 Legislative Session
The Georgia State Legislature is considering legalizing casino gambling once more. State representatives had a meeting on Tuesday with LaGrange City Council members to discuss collaboration on the issue.
The various lawmamers and officials discussed a ballot initiative which would appear as a state amendment referndum in 2017. The initiative regards land-based gaming casinos in Georgia.
The early indications are the initiative will look similar to plans discussed in 2015 and 2016. Like the 2011 alcohol bill, decisions would be left to individual counties. The state would be divided into zones and each region would receive one casino. Atlanta Metro would receive two licenses.
Josh McKoon on Georgia Casinos
Rep. Josh McKoon of Columbus said, “If it is like the measure that was introduced during the last session, the state is divided into five zones. Two casino licenses would issue for the metro Atlanta area, and then one apiece for these other regions.”
“The discussion that I heard was the west Georgia license would likely wind up being in Columbus, but that is not required by the statute.”
5 Separate Gaming Regions
Under that plan, potential developers would apply for a license in a particular region. If the company lost a license process, it could submit an application for a casino license in one of the other four regions. By that time, the opportunity to present a winning plan might have transpired, though.
The old plan also would foster a sense of competition among cities in a region. For instance, if Columbus received a casino, it would mean LaGrange could not obtain a casino of their own. That would create a fierce competition among the various cities in a region.
Randy Nix on Georgia Casino Bill
Economic competition between old and new business also might erupt. Rep. Randy Nix, a Republican from LaGrange, opposes the amendment. Representative Nix said casino gambling would hurt many local businesses which offer entertainment or leisure activities.
Randy Nix told the LaGrange News, “If you want to see what casino gaming can do for a local economy, go to Wetumpka, Ala., and find out how many restaurants are no longer there. Find out how many events that have entertainment are no longer there. It’s all going right in that one place.”
HOPE Scholarship Funding from Casinos
Proponents of casino gambling said the amendment would help to fund the HOPE scholarship. The state recently gave a $1 billion check to the HOPE Fund from lottery proceeds. The Georgia Lottery contributes 23% of its revenues to education, while the ultimate target is 35%.
Casino gambling would entail a vast expansion of the HOPE Fund, if the amendment was devised in the proper way. Some wonder if casino gambling might hurt lottery betting, as people who play the scratch-offs might prefer to gamble on the slot machines, blackjack tables, or in the poker room.
Rep. Josh McKoon said that is a concern, but Atlanta-area casinos would attract players from across the region — not just Georgia. McKoon said, “How much of a natural table gaming, slot machine market is there in Georgia for people who aren’t buying scratch off lottery tickets or power ball or what have you?
“A big argument for this is that people are going to parachute in for this, particularly to metro Atlanta. This is going to be a destination, and again, you either buy that argument, or you don’t in terms of what people’s spending patterns will be.”
Casino Gambling Fails in 2016
Previous measures to pass a Georgia casino bill have failed. Many citizens believe casino gambling leads to social problems, either from increased crime areas, money laundering, or problem gambling. Social conservatives, religious groups, and anti-gambling activists often lobby against brick-and-mortar gambling.
Casino developers lobby on the other side of the debate, though. MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren and Las Vegas Sands Corp CEO Sheldon Adelson each have signaled they would apply for a Georgia casino license.
Jim Murren group has toured Atlanta and Athens in the past, looking for potential casino sites. Sheldon Adelson has visited Atlanta. In fact, when Adelson ended his years-long lobbying efforts for casino gambling in Florida, it was said he would shift his funding and focus to lobbying for Georgia casino gambling, instead.
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