Shocked! Shocked! That There May Be Gambling In Georgia

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Republicans will be asked five non-binding questions when they vote in the July primary this year.  There will be the much publicized question about limiting gifts from lobbyists to legislators.  Voters will also be asked if active duty military members under the age of 21 should be allowed to obtain a Georgia gun carry permit.  A question designed to check opinion on whether Georgia should have “closed” primaries by making primary voters declare party affiliation 30 days prior to an election will appear.  And social conservatives were successful in adding the “personhood” amendment supporting the protection of life from its “earliest biological beginning.”

Perhaps the most intriguing of the five, however, is one that asks “Should Georgia have casino gambling with funds going to education.”  Intriguing because, unlike the limit on lobbyist caps or the personhood question, the matter was not being openly discussed among any significant faction of the grassroots members of the party prior to the convention.

While there has been an active plan between members of the Georgia Lottery Corporation and developer Dan O’Leary, the involvement of the Republican Party’s through the ballot question signals that there is momentum to demonstrate public support. Presumably, a positive vote count would allow elected officials to either support or “look the other way” on the approval of video casino gaming operated by the Georgia Lottery Corporation.  Supporters continue to remind nervous legislators and the Governor that they need not vote to approve the expansion of the lottery’s gaming options.  They only need to not stand in the way.

The Governor’s office expressed “shock” that the proposal was placed on the ballot.  Spokesperson Brian Robinson told the AJC’s Jim Galloway that “the governor’s office was as surprised as anyone to hear about it.”  Galloway reports that Party Chair Sue Everhart has claimed responsibility for asking the measure to be placed on the ballot, but declined to reveal who brought the idea to her.

The Governor’s position has been firm against gambling ever since it was not.  In August 2010, Candidate Nathan Deal said of the issue “We should look at it with an open mind and we should not say ‘no’ just because of any particular bias one way or the other. I’m willing to keep an open mind about it.”  A rebuke by social conservatives quickly had Deal evolve his position to being against the issue. 

But the Governor’s official objection has not slowed the Georgia Lottery Corp nor O’Leary from pursuing the option.  The Lottery Corporation commissioned a study showing the potential success of Casinos placed in either downtown Atlanta or in Suburban Atlanta such as Gwinnett County – two locations which O’Leary has potential casino sites.  Meanwhile, news stories are perpetually generated showing dire projections for the HOPE Scholarship fund if additional revenues are not found.

The Governor’s most coherent criticism from Democrats has been over the reforms to the HOPE scholarship program. Continued rising costs of tuition coupled with flat lottery revenues appear to predict significant cuts in the value of the scholarship to many Georgia families.  A new revenue stream to bolster the current payouts could remedy the need for additional cuts and blunt the partisan criticisms in advance of a re-election campaign.  A positive result from a ballot question could deflect criticism from a Republican base that was once assured gambling was off the table.

It wouldn’t be Georgia politics if the strategy did not have it’s built in irony.  As Georgia leaders appear to use a referendum on casino gambling to change public positions, they are also downplaying the message likely to be sent by Republican voters supporting a cap on lobbyist gifts.

Without the benefit of any polling on either issue, one could bet that the gift cap would be supported by more Republicans than casino gambling.  A narrow show of support on casino gambling is likely to result in policy change.  An overwhelming show of support for gift caps may not.

Like other issues, voters’ wishes are most likely to be heard and implemented when they coincide with the wishes of the well heeled and well connected.  Casino gambling is but the latest to come to the forefront.  Voters are about to be used as a convenient excuse for politicians to do what they fully intend to do. It is another opportunity to take more money from the private sector for the direct benefit on the politically powerful.  Remember this when you register your opinion in July.


  1. Calypso says:

    Deal needs to get off his sanctimonious high-horse and quit threatening vetoes just to please the religio-nuts.

    Charlie, you said, “It is another opportunity to take more money from the private sector for the direct benefit on the politically powerful.”

    Please explain yourself on this statement. Thanks.

    • Charlie says:

      If the amount of money raised by the casino were called a tax, every Republican legislator would be against it. Instead, it’s a “free market” solution where one connected individual (perhaps others in time) will be granted a monopoly. He will act as a conduit to take money from the private sector so that we can continue to prop up a bloated University System. A rent seeking developer profits, and the real problems with out of control cost increases within the University system continues unabated as government expands with more money transfered the private sector to be spent expanding government.

      • Calypso says:

        Methinks you are conflating two issues. While I agree with your point about runaway costs in the state university system-fueled greatly by the preponderance of easy HOPE money and undeserving students-the ability of one to spend time in a casino should be a separate issue and dealt with thusly.

        You state, “He will act as a conduit to take money from the private sector…” but rather it should read “He will act as a conduit to accept money freely given from the private sector…” because as you rightly say, this is not a tax, but rather the establishment’s charge for that day’s entertainment. No different than the money I freely spent at the theater last weekend. The exception being some of the casino money goes to support HOPE and the theater’s money not.

        • Charlie says:

          And that is at least the proper way to debate whether or not we want casinos in Georgia. Not to create a government run monopoly for the benefit of the developer that’s willing to quietly pull political strings behind the scenes. Which is how most “policy” is made here these days.

          Jay Bookman made an excellent point that would usually be made by conservatives if the middleman was eliminated and the money went straight to the government here, where he essentialy explains that this “voluntary” tax tends to consume everything around it, and doesn’t spur other economic development:

          “It’s also important to think carefully about the economic and cultural impact of casinos, because the gaming industry casts a large shadow where other things have trouble growing. Go to gambling towns such as Reno or Atlantic City, and you’ll notice that outside the casinos there is almost no commercial activity. Casinos do everything in their power to keep visitors and their dollars contained on-site. As a result, you see few independent restaurants, hotels, bars and entertainment facilities.

          “The same is true of a major city such as Las Vegas. Even with a low tax structure made possible by gaming revenue, traditional industries have been reluctant to locate there because the casino culture is so dominant.

          “In fact, as someone who lived and worked in Las Vegas for several years, I’d align myself with religious conservatives on this one. It’s hard to quantify, but beyond the surface din of excitement, there’s an underlying sadness to casino towns that money just doesn’t alleviate. There are some things more important than money.”

      • Calypso says:

        Most likely not, but that’s not who Deal is trying to appease. It’s the religio-nuts whose favor he seeks to curry, or at least, to not ruffle their feathers. And you know that. Weak try.

        • Baker says:

          My point is not about Deal trying to curry favor, my point is that casino gambling would be a crappy way for us to try to raise revenues.

          • Calypso says:

            I don’t totally rule out that outcome. But I’d like to give a try anyhow, with strict oversight and regulation.

  2. SallyForth says:

    Heck, we’ve been gambling in Georgia for a long time – every time we elect some of these clowns running our state.

  3. saltycracker says:

    Georgia education obsessing for another revenue stream should qualify for some addiction therapy group.

  4. GotUrBack says:

    I’m just wondering why this question – if active duty military members under the age of 21 should be allowed to obtain a Georgia gun carry permit – was put on the ballot. This is totally unnecessary as active duty military members are exempt from all carry laws in GA via Code Section 16-11-130 which gives them the power to carry anywhere they wish without a license. Unfortunately, due to one of numerous oversights, they are unable to purchase ammo for a handgun until they are 21.

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