Georgia voters may decide to legalize horse racing betting

Georgian voters may have the option of legalizing horse racing betting after a Senate committee passed a constitutional amendment on Wednesday, but the fate of the legislation remains unclear.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee voted to approve Senate Resolution 131, but did not act on accompanying Senate Bill 212, which would authorize up to five racetracks with gambling anywhere. where in the state. Committee chairman Bill Cowsert, a Republican from Athens, has pledged to vote on the accompanying bill in the coming days.

Some Georgia lawmakers typically try to expand gambling every year in the General Assembly, but none have succeeded since voters approved a state lottery in 1992. The House has been less supportive of expansion efforts these last few years, but House Speaker David Ralston gave supporters new hope in January when he said “there’s an appetite this session that I’ve never seen before to do something about it,” suggesting that supporters should focus on a constitutional amendment and leave the details of whether the state will legalize casinos, sports betting or horse racing betting until later.

No proposals have yet emerged in the House, although supporters are hoping for action before Crossover Day on March 15, when the legislation is due out of its original chamber. The House could also still act on Senate Bill 142, which allows sports betting regulated by the Georgia Lottery Corp.

The senators are taking a different approach, advancing a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow betting on live races at Georgia tracks or betting on simulcast races from other tracks. But the amendment put forward on Wednesday would not allow other forms of gambling such as slot machines or casino table games at racetracks.

Cowsert said it was at the insistence of the Senate Republican leadership. But it also made him wonder if horse racing would be financially viable without the extra support, which has become common at racetracks in other states as lotteries and casinos have grown.

“That’s part of what worries me here, if it’s not possible for him to be successful without additional playing revenue,” Cowsert said.

Proponents, for their part, have focused on the potential economic benefits of horse racing, pointing to a Georgia Southern University study that shows horse racing could boost the state’s economy by $1.28 billion. dollars a year and create 15,800 jobs over a decade. This includes the projected fallout from Thoroughbred breeding.

“We believe we’re going to create a new industry, the equine industry, that will bring $1.2 billion in economic impact to the state of Georgia, and it will especially help rural Georgia with horse farms, horse farms, hay,” said Senator Brandon. Beach, an Alpharetta Republican.

But Mike Griffin, who lobbies for downstate Baptist churches, said he believes if they are legalized, horse racing advocates will push to allow other forms of betting. Churches oppose gambling as immoral and preying on the poor.

“It seems only the rich drink wine and eat cheese, but I’m telling you it’s going to go beyond that.”

If a majority of voters agreed to change the state constitution, local governments would have to allow racetracks in their city or county. Under the proposed bill, the industry would be regulated by a state racing commission and would-be operators would have to pay a non-refundable $500,000 to apply for a license and then $250,000 a year to renew the license. The state would get a 3.5% cut of all money wagered to fund certain priorities, including education, health care and rural internet access.


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Lynn A. Saleh