ATLANTA – Proposals to legalize gambling in Georgia are now in the pipeline of both legislative chambers in the General Assembly.
A bill introduced in the state Senate this week would allow pari-mutuel betting on horse racing in the Peach State subject to a statewide referendum.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Brandon Beach, follows the introduction of two measures in the Georgia House of Representatives to legalize online sports betting and casino gambling. Those are sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens of Savannah.
Beach’s 51-page bill calls for the construction of up to three mixed-use developments featuring a racetrack, hotels and restaurants. The facilities also could include convention space, entertainment venues and retail shopping.
One of the racetrack complexes would have to be located within 50 miles of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and require an investment of at least $250 million. The other two facilities would be outside of metro Atlanta and require a smaller investment of at least $125 million.
Portions of the betting proceeds would go toward education, health care, rural development and to efforts to address problem gambling and promote the horse racing and breeding industries in Georgia.
Beach, R-Alpharetta, the main driver behind horse racing in the legislature for several years, has promoted the proposal as a way to create jobs, not only at the racetracks but on rural horse breeding and hay farms.
He and other supporters of legalized gambling argue gambling is already pervasive in Georgia, but the state isn’t maximizing badly needed tax revenue that could be derived from racetracks, casinos and sports betting.
“We’ve got the COAM (coin-operated amusement machines) and the lottery drawings,” Beach said. “[But the lottery] is not able to completely fund the HOPE Scholarship [program] anymore. We’re going to have to find different revenue sources.”
Beach’s bill would create a commission to oversee horse racing in Georgia. Track operators would have to put up $500,000 for a license from the commission and pay $250,000 per year to renew the license for up to 10 years.
Legalizing pari-mutuel betting on horse racing requires a constitutional amendment, which has yet to be introduced so far this year. Passing a constitutional change and putting it on the statewide ballot for Georgia voters to decide is a difficult hurdle in the General Assembly because it requires two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate.
Sen. Ed Harbison, D-Columbus, has signed on to Beach’s bill as a cosponsor. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee.
This story available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Education Foundation.