All across the nation, state governments are still picking up the pieces from one of the worst recessions in history. The key to recovery would seem to be the generation of new revenue sources. Since it isn’t a popular position to raise taxes while citizens continue to recover from the same recession, many state legislatures are looking to the gaming industry as a possible source of income.
In the state of Georgia, the state constitution only allows for a state run lottery. Other forms of gambling, namely horse racing and casino, are currently restricted by law. If State House Representative Ron Stephens and other house representatives have their way, these laws could soon be challenged and the state would be in line to reap significant financial benefits.
As Chairman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee, Stephens has introduced a constitutional amendment that would in fact change the language in order to permit horse race and casino gambling in certain locations within the state. It is noteworthy that this is not a new law that is being proposed, but instead an amendment.
The reason Stephens has chosen this path to bring the issue to the floor is because of the distinct possibility that Republican Governor Nathan Deal would veto any legislation related to expanding legal gambling throughout the state.
Reports are that Deal is opposed to any such expansion and a veto would seem imminent. By seeking a constitutional amendment, the governor would have little to no influence over the process. If an amendment were to pass, the decision would rest solely with voters at a two-thirds majority.
According to Stephens, revenues from any new forms of gaming would be directed for the benefit of programs such as HOPE Scholarship and Pre-K funding. Stephens further indicated that the state lottery commission could oversee as many as six new casinos, which could bring in an estimated $1.0 billion in annual revenues to the state’s kitty.
While it’s too late to vote on such an amendment in 2015, Stephens expects that between now and January of 2016, the legislature could engage in healthy debate and have the bill ready for a vote by that time.
Both sides of such an amendment are already at odds over any such action. Opponents are using the requisite argument about the assumption that gaming brings crime and financial devastation to the poor within the communities that have easy access to any forms of gaming.
Proponents counter by suggesting the casinos would be located in high traffic tourist locations where well-to-do visitors would provide much of the revenue. These proponents also offer the argument that as many as 10,000 construction jobs and another 10,000 permanent jobs would be created at a time when citizens need jobs.
A surprising opponent to any such amendment or legislation is the horse racing industry. It would seem they don’t want to be lumped in with casinos, fearing that such action exposes them failure as they try to secure their own legislation.
With 10 months remaining until the issue could be presented for a vote, it will be interesting to see how things shake out within the House. As is the case in many other states, gambling legislation is of keen interest to the citizens and the good folks of Georgia are sure to have their say.