Lawmakers in the Georgia House of Representatives are traveling the state to discuss the potential benefits and drawbacks of legalizing commercial casinos in the Peach State.
The 15-member House Special Committee on Economic Growth plans to crisscross the state on what it’s calling the “Gaming Listening Tour.” The group held its first meeting on Tuesday in Valdosta.
Valdosta is roughly 15 miles north of the Georgia-Florida border. Interstate 75 traverses the city, making it a potentially appealing location for a casino resort. No Seminole casinos are in the northern part of Florida.
The committee presented attendees with a video describing how Georgia has arrived here. The program explained that nine out of 10 Georgians believe a vote should be put before the public to decide whether to legalize gambling, and as a result, the state House of Representatives gathered for three days last month to discuss the issue.
Winning People Over
Prior to the casino roadshow, numerous representatives from the gaming industry appeared before the House committee to make their case as to why Georgia should move forward with legalizing resort casinos.
Company officials from MGM Resorts, Wynn Resorts, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Wind Creek Hospitality, Boyd Gaming, Penn National, Georgia Lottery, and Scientific Games all made arguments. Opposition was also heard – primarily from religious organizations.
The Special Committee on Economic Growth consolidated the three days of gaming discussions into a 25-minute video that was shown before the Valdosta audience. It will begin each listening session stop.
The response was relatively positive in Valdosta. Some members of the public wanted to make sure if Georgia does legalize casinos, that the local county and state governments are adequately compensated through a tax on gross gaming revenue. Concerns regarding whether casino taxes would benefit the state’s HOPE Scholarship program were also raised.
Valdosta local Jim Hathaway said he’s long been opposed to gambling. But he recently softened that position.
They presented it very well,” Valdosta resident Jim Hathaway said. “The way they presented it with the hotels and everything that surrounds the casino, it makes it more of a family thing and destination point.”
The Georgia House special gaming committee didn’t say when or where the next session would be held, but it expects to conduct several more.
Path to Legalization
Gambling is gaining momentum because of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s (R) decision to rein in spending. The Republican in his first term has directed state agencies to offer four percent cuts to their budgets this year, and six percent next year.
Casino taxes would provide the state with a new, untapped revenue source. But Georgia lawmakers don’t possess the power to legalize commercial gambling on their own.
A constitutional amendment would need to be passed in the legislature and signed by Kemp. The governor opposes gambling, but said he would not block such a measure from being put before voters.
If that were to occur, a simple majority of Georgians would need to approve the constitutional amendment to bring casino resorts to the Peach State.
The Atlanta Motor Speedway has already proposed a $1 billion casino resort project adjacent to the racetrack. The project was envisioned with the Mashantucket Pequot Indians in Connecticut, owners and operators of the Foxwoods integrated resort.