Georgia Casino Bill Never Sees House Vote

Despite being among the largest states in terms of population and having a major business, convention, and cultural hub in Atlanta, Georgia is barren when it comes to casino gambling. North Carolina to the north has casinos and Florida to the south certainly does, but Georgia? No dice. It looks like Georgia will remain a casino ghost town for the foreseeable future, as measure to legalize casino gambling in the state failed to make progress in the state legislature and appears dead for the rest of the year.

Georgia PeachIn early March, some progress was actually made, to my great surprise as a Georgia resident. House Resolution 327 passed through the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee, the first step in making casinos a reality. Unlike many gambling bills in other states, this one did not lay out all the regulations, but rather would have authorized a measure to be put on the 2020 ballot to allow Georgia residents to decide whether or not they wanted to permit casino gambling. Here is the bill’s summary:

A RESOLUTION proposing an amendment to the Constitution so as to authorize the General Assembly to provide by law for the local authorization of a limited number of licensed destination resort facilities casino resorts within the state; to authorize the operation and regulation of limited casino gaming within the state; to provide for related matters; to provide for the submission of this amendment for ratification or rejection; and for other purposes.

“This bill does one thing and one thing only,” sponsor and Committee Chair Ron Stephens (R – Savannah) told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time. “It allows the public to finally make a decision on whether they want to have destination (gaming) resorts or not.”

The Buck Stopped There

But even though the bill made it through that committee vote, that’s as far as things went. Georgia has a think called “Crossover Day,” which is the deadline for a bill to pass a vote of one of the chambers of the General Assembly in order to stay alive for further progress the rest of the year. For whatever reason, that deadline is in March, despite more than three-quarters of the calendar year remaining. On Crossover Day, when bill after bill after bill gets put up for a vote, HR 327 never got that chance. It is still possible that it could be tacked on to another bill at some point, but it’s unlikely.

“I’m not going to give up. I’m going to come back another year,” Rep. Stephens told the AJC. “We’ve got a whole lot of venues out here in Georgia that may have only one or two events per year, and they’d like to add some of these tourism products”

He added that one problem may have been that some of his colleagues were wary of sending the issue to the voters without regulations already drawn up.

Here was the proposed wording for the ballot:

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to preserve the long-term financial stability of the HOPE scholarship program and to support other scholarship programs through net tax and licensing revenues generated by permitting the establishment of licensed destination resort facilities where casino gaming is permitted?

Fairly clever wording, framing it as an educational measure rather than a gambling measure.

HOPE Scholarship Needs Cash Infusion

The HOPE Scholarship program was created in 1993 by former Governor Zell Miller. Funded entirely by the lottery, the HOPE Scholarship provides financial assistance to students attending in-state universities and colleges (both private and public), as well as public technical colleges. It is insanely popular, as generally, the eligibility requirements were fairly simple: maintain a B average (it wasn’t quite this simple, but that was it in a nutshell).

The problem the HOPE Scholarship has been having is that it is too popular. So many students have been earning it that it has been running out of money. As such, during this decade, payments for books and mandatory fees were removed and academic rigor requirements were added, making students take some more difficult classes. The grade point requirements were increased to a 3.0, as well. The idea, of course, was to lower the number of students earning the HOPE Scholarship, and in turn save money.

Casino revenue would be used to fund the HOPE Scholarship and proponents of the casino bill primarily point to this as the reason to get it passed. As expected, there are other arguments for casinos, as well, such as jobs, tourism, attracting conventions, etc.

Though the failure of the bill to advance is disappointing to its supporters, the bright side is that this is the first bill I can remember even making it this far. Progress.

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