Georgia Lawmakers Are Considering Legalize Brick-and-Mortar Casinos for the HOPE Scholarship
Georgia lawmakers are discussing casino gambling as a way to raise funds for the HOPE scholarship program, a merit-based program which helps high-achieving students attend college at a discount. At the moment, the HOPE program is funded the Georgia State Lottery, but declining participation in the state-level lotto games mean the HOPE fund is not as well-funded as in the past.
To replace the cash, the state’s lawmakers have looked at a number of potential options. One was to legalize betting on horse races. Another was to license and regulate brick-and-mortar casinos. Non-gambling revenue sources have been considered, but those involve the never-easy choice between higher taxes and fewer services. Raising additional revenue through a gambling tax seems to be the most painless way to make up the difference — and it’s a choice dozens of states have made over the past 2 decades.
Bill Cowsert Wants Higher Lotto Taxes
Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert said the lottery simply has not been paying the advertised amount of taxes in the past 5 years. The state requires the lottery corporation to pay 35% of its revenues in gaming taxes each year. If jackpots are lower than expected and the tax revenues decline, then the state lottery has the discretion to pay a smaller percentage to the HOPE scholarship fund.
Sen. Cowsert says that lottery has been paying significantly lower than the mandated 35% over the past few years. He believes a more concrete rule should be in place to compel the lottery corporation to pay the proper level of taxation. The Senate majority leader said, “In fiscal year 2014, the lottery transferred 23.5 percent of sales back to the state. This has been the trend over the past five years. We must require the Lottery Board to comply with the law.”
Valencia Seay’s Proposals
State Senator Valencia Seay told a reporter she is not averse to having legalized land-based gambling, but she wants to mitigate its negative social impact. Sen. Seay wants provisions in any new law which protects people from the ravages of gambling addiction.
Seay’s proposals establish policies well beyond the standard problem gambling statutes. Most states include requirements that tax money should be used to educate and help problem gamblers and their families. States often require the gaming companies to promote help lines and other educational resources, so anyone gambling legally learns ways to cope with compulsive gambling habits.
Some states enact self-exclusion lists, which allows a person to sign up on a list of people who want themselves banned from gaming establishments in the state. These people register for the self-ban during their more contemplative moments, banning themselves for 1-year, 5-years, or lifetime. When their addiction later gets the better of them, the casino management is required by law to screen for them and exclude them from the premises. It is an imperfect system, but it helps thousands of problem gamblers in New Jersey to stop destructive gambling.
Paying Money to the Addict’s Families
Sen. Valencia Seay wants to go one step further: set aside money to help the families of problem gamblers, whom she sees as the chief victims. The senator said, “My concern is not only does that person need help, but the families that still need food, clothing, and shelter would need help as well.”
The suggestion is likely to be controversial. On one side, it makes sense that a problem gambler eventually bets the mortgage, the car payment, or even the grocery bill. Seay would like a safety net to provide for the spouses and children who did not choose to gamble. She could argue that the people have paid into the system, through their loved one’s exorbitant gambling. Opponents are likely to say such insurance against bad betting might encourage a gambler to push their luck one more time.
MGM Resorts and LVS Have Shown Interest
In the last few months, two large Las Vegas casino companies have shown interest in the Georgia gaming market. MGM Resorts and Las Vegas Sands Corporation each have indicated a willingness to invest in a land-based Georgia casino.
MGM Resorts has talked to officials at the state level, along with local leaders in Atlanta and Athens. The company, known for the MGM Grand, Bellagio, and Mandalay Bay casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, is said to have a plan in place for a $1 billion-plus casino for downtown Atlanta.
The Las Vegas Sands Corp’s plans are a little less well-known. Until the fall of 2015, Sheldon Adelson’s gaming compay had lobbied the State of Florida about building a South Florida casino, probably in the Miami area. After years of lobbying, Sheldon Adelson is said to have dropped his efforts a few months back, letting go several Florida lobbyists from his payroll. At the time, Adelson was quoted through a third-party saying he would shift his focus from Florida to Georgia.
If so, the legalization process could be tricky. One suggestion was to approach the casino laws in Georgia the way the legislature approached alcohol sales. Instead of striving for a state amendment to legalize casinos, lawmakers might pass a law which allows individual counties to determine whether to legalize casinos or not.
HOPE Scholarship Program
The HOPE scholarship fund helps thousands of Georgia high school students each year attend college for free or at reduced costs. The HOPE scholarship is awarded based on merit, so only high-achieving students with good grades and extracurriculars are likely to qualify. While the fund does not always pay for a full college ride, it does mitigate the financial crisis the postsecondary education system poses to students. Many students who receive the HOPE scholarship do not have to take out student loans for their university studies, or need much smaller and more affordable loans.
As the multistate lottery associations have gained ascendance in the American lotto industry, the Georgia State Lottery has seen a decline in sales. Powerball and Mega Millions offer jackpots in the tens of millions or even hundreds of millions, while the state lotteries offer jackpots in the hundreds-of-thousands or single-million dollar range. People naturally want the bigger jackpots. Word of mouth about the huge multistate payouts also circle, when the jackpot rises to a certain amount.
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