Georgia Lawmakers Reject a Casino Legislation in the 2016 Election Climate
Georgia lawmakers declined to bring up casino legislation for a vote earlier this week. Monday was considered “crossover day” in the Georgia State House of Representatives, meaning the deadline for House Resolution 807 to go to the State Senate for further consideration.
The House Regulated Industries Committee passed the bill unanimously last week, hoping to send HB 807 to the Senate this week. The bill never made it to the House floor this week, though, which effectively kills the bill for the remainder of 2016.
David Ralston Squelched the Vote
On Friday of last week, House Speaker David Ralston postponed a vote until this week, asking lawmakers to discuss the bill with their constituents over the weekend. Ralston’s move appeared to be a stalling tactic, because he declined to put the draft legislation up for a vote this week.
To justify inaction, David Ralston told House members that the “faith community felt they had not been heard”. Many Georgia evangelical Christians are against gambling expansion on moral grounds.
Governor Deal against the Bill
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said he was against the House Resolution 807, because he felt casino gambling would not “enhance the climate of the state”. Gov. Deal expressed concerns that the buidling of casinos would offer lottery gamblers and alternative to playing the lotto, so it might hurt lottery revenues for the state treasury.
House Resolution 807 would have placed a referendum on the November election ballot for the people of Georgia. Such a bill would have allowed for up to 4 brick-and-mortar casinos in the state. Currently, Georgia does not have land-based casino gambling, though a small number of casino cruises leave from Georgia ports. Casino cruises go out 3 miles into international waters, thus skirting Georgia’s state bans on casino gambling.
HOPE Scholarship Fund Payments
Those who supported the gaming bill added provisions so casino gambling would fund the HOPE education scholarship program. The HOPE scholarship program is perpetually underfunded. Georgia, like other parts of the United States, is facing a college education pricing crisis. Many Americans who attend four years of college end up with high five-figure and six-figure debts from their college loans.
In the current work environment, it hardly makes sense to attain a college degree, which is a major problem for prospective students and for the society as a whole. The HOPE scholarship fund is Georgia’s answer, but it does not have the resources to make it a viable prop for the state’s student population. In such a way, lawmakers had hoped to make casino gambling palatable to Georgia’s conservative voter base.
Two Metro Atlanta Casinos
HR 807 would have called for two casinos in the Metro Atlanta area. One of the casinos had a provision for a minimum $1.25 billion investment by the casino development which gained that license. A secondary casino would have required a minimum $750 million investment.
MGM Resorts and Las Vegas Sands Corporation each had shown significant interest in the Metro Atlanta casinos. MGM Resorts made a show of touring the state last year, searching both Atlanta and Athens for potential casino sites.
Lobbying Efforts in Florida and Georgia
Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands had ended his multi-year lobbying effort to build a casino in South Florida. As he closed his lobbying operation in the State of Florida, media sources said he had chosen to focus on potential casino gambling in nearby Georgia.
Now, it appears Adelson’s hopes have been dashed in Georgia for 2016. It is never easy to have the state legislature sign off on a controversial bill in an election year. 2016 is a presidential election year fraught with peril for Republicans and Democrats alike.
GOP’s Potential Albatross in 2016
With real estate developer Donald Trump likely to be on the ballot as the Republican Party’s nominee for president, it was unlikely Georgia Republicans wanted to support a casino expansion bill. While Georgia is likely to be solidly Republican in the presidential race, that is little comfort to Republican candidates in key battleground districts.
Those candidates already are going to have trouble justifying support for Donald Trump at the head of the ticket, because of his bad manners, seeming lack of morals, and history in the gambling industry. To be defending the building of casinos in conservative Georgia is likely one bridge too far in 2016. Thus, Jim Murren and Sheldon Adelson are going to need to wait until 2017 to get a proper discussion of HR 807.
There is a provision which allows the House to attach a bill to an already-approved Senate bill, but that does not appear to be in the cards for the casino bill. Another plan for pushing gaming laws to the county level had been discussed by political pundits. Such a plan worked for the expansion of pro-alcohol laws in Georgia in 2011, but no such plan appears to have been discussed by Georgia lawmakers this time around.
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