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Georgia lawmaker wants voters to decide on gambling expansion

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(The Center Square) — A state senator plans to introduce legislation allowing Georgians to decide on a constitutional amendment allowing casino gambling, sports betting, and pari-mutuel wagering.

During a Wednesday Joint Committees on Economic Development and Tourism, state Sen. Brandon Beach said the initiative could bring in $900 million per year to the state, and half of the money would go into a freight and logistics fund for road, bridge and rail projects. The remaining money would go toward a rural healthcare fund (20%), a mental healthcare and gambling addiction fund (20%) and historically Black colleges and universities (10%).

Beach plans to drop his legislation on the first day of the legislative session starting next month. He indicated he could also edit the legislation to allow state officials to use proceeds to help the state attract major events, such as the Super Bowl and the Final Four.

“I’m all for sports betting, but I will tell you from an economic development [and] job creation standpoint, sports betting is done through this,” Beach, R-Alpharetta, said during the committee hearing, noting that 38 states nationwide allow sports betting. “From a job creation standpoint, if we would have three destination resort casinos and one pari-mutuel track or maybe two, we would create a lot of jobs.”

Beach said he does not want a Las Vegas-style strip. Rather, the destination resort would have a hotel, shopping and shows, which could also lead to additional non-gaming revenue.

“One of the things we do lack here in the metro Atlanta area is any nighttime activity,” Beach added. “So, we’ve got to figure out how we do that.”

The measure would establish a gaming commission under the Georgia Lottery Corp. to administer rules and regulations.

Expanding gambling in some capacity is hardly new in Georgia; legislators have debated various proposals for years. For example, last year, the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee signed off on legislation that would have allowed voters to decide on sports betting.

“We see this as a potential economic development boom that we need in west central Georgia right now to bring in jobs, to bring in quality entertainment,” state Rep. Tremaine “Teddy” Reese, D-Columbus, said during the committee meeting, adding that the money for HBCUs is a “critical component” of the proposal.

“Every other weekend, I see busloads of Georgians leaving our state, going to Alabama, going to Biloxi, Mississippi, to contribute to their economic development and growth, when we can be keeping these dollars right here in Georgia.

“This is not just about economic development. But this is about sustaining who we are as a state and helping us move forward,” Reese added. “So, I look forward to the continued conversation. But most importantly, I look forward to allowing the people of Georgia to decide.”

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