With Georgia’s General Assembly starting a new 40-day legislative session this week, proponents of bringing casino gambling to the state are hopeful the topic will be central to the state’s future.
Senator Brandon Beach plans to introduce a proposal to introduce five casinos and one horse racing track in the upcoming legislative.
The most recent polls in the state suggest that a majority of voters want casinos to be introduced into the state.
A poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution saw 56 per cent of registered voters support the introduction of casinos with only 38 per cent against them.
Senator Beach requires two-thirds of the House and Senate to agree to then put the issue to voters in a 2018 referendum.
He said: “I’m a Republican. There’s nothing more Republican or more conservative than allowing the voters to decide if they would like to pursue this.”
His bill will propose a 12 per cent tax on gross gaming revenue although that figure will probably have to increase to be approved by the General Assembly. Casinos in Maryland are taxed at up to 67 per cent.
Senator Beach has proposed that the state be split into four geographic zones: I-20 to the north, Coastal Georgia, Middle Georgia and South Georgia. He said a ‘primary’ license would be granted to a leading casino operator, with a minimum investment of $1bn in a new resort casino within 25 miles of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. It would be allowed an unlimited number of gaming positions.
The bill would then offer four secondary licenses each with a minimum investment of $250m, which would allow 2,000 gaming positions and a racino horse track license with a minimum $150m investment giving 1,500 gaming positions. The secondary licensed casino would not be located within 50 miles of the primary licensed casino. The new gaming venues would be regulated by a division of the Georgia Lottery Corporation, which would also be in charge of awarding the licenses.
MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts are lobbying Georgia’s legislators to let voters decide on a constitutional amendment allowing casinos.
MGM Resorts International CEO James Murren recently spoke of a potential casino/resort in Georgia in an Atlanta speech before local businessmen.
However, House Speaker David Ralston does not believe the legislation will be enacted this year.
“We’ve got a lot of decisions we have to make,” he said. “I’m not sure we’ll be able to make them all this session. And I’m still not sure that casinos in Georgia are consistent with where we want to be as a state.”
Supporters of the bill believe that the success of MGM’s new National Harbor complex in Maryland, which opened in early December, could help sway opinion.
The Georgia Horse Racing Coalition is hopeful that a decision on allowing pari-mutuel wagering and a racino in Georgia will be put before voters. It is hopeful of seeing Piedmont Park, a Thoroughbred racetrack near Atlanta, come to fruition.
Steven Crayne, Executive Director of the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition, said: “Horse racing on its own does not offer enough tax revenue to move the needle. State leaders need money to shore up the Hope scholarship and other areas of education. If they adopt resort-style gaming, then you have the revenue and there is something for everyone. There is an uptick across the state. What we’re proposing will be good for Georgia and for racing.”