Today’s Courier Herald Column:
“Should Georgia have casino gambling with funds going to education?”
There’s an old joke where a man asks a woman at a bar if she’ll sleep with him for one million dollars. She grins a bit and says yes. He then asks would she sleep with him for one hundred dollars and she angrily exclaims “what kind of woman do you think I am?” He grins and replies “Ma’am, we’ve already established that. Now we’re just negotiating the price.”
“Should Georgia have casino gambling” is the question that determines what kind of state we’re going to be. “with funds going to education” is just there to help determine the price.
The gaming industry is not like others sought for economic development. The areas outside casinos are often desolate, as the casino operators are very good at keeping each dollar within the establishment. There is little left over for other businesses nearby to thrive symbiotically.
For a casino to add net value to the state, it must derive its income from tourists more than it does from local residents. Otherwise it is just another tax taking money from Georgia’s private sector and moving it under state control. The casino plan behind this ballot question indicates the latter is likely to be the case.
While the actual events that led to this question appearing on the Georgia GOP ballot are still a bit of a mystery, the intentions of the question are not. Dan O’Leary is a well connected developer who has been attempting to use the Georgia Lottery Board’s charter to bring a casino to Georgia for years. His original plan was to convert Underground Atlanta into a convention district video gaming parlor. He is now focused on a site adjacent to I-85 in Gwinnett County. Savannah and Jekyll Island have also been mentioned as possible locations.
Politicians need political cover to look the other way and allow the lottery board to authorize the extension of their franchise. If limited to video table games, no vote of the General Assembly or the people of Georgia is required. Thus, the question is not designed to bring a world class casino to Georgia that would help anchor Atlanta or Savannah as a tourist destination, but instead is designed to allow for an arcade for adults to prey upon locals and suck up additional money for the University System of Georgia via the HOPE scholarship.
Were this question about allowing for true private sector gaming that would allow for world class casino attractions, perhaps my vote would be different. I enjoy playing blackjack and find nothing inherently wrong with a well regulated gaming industry.
While that is the vision that is being offered Georgians, this referendum is little more than an attempt to paper over a file to allow a rent-seeking developer to use Georgia’s lottery monopoly for his personal benefit.
Like so many issues of Georgia public policy today, the fundamentals of the question at hand are clouded by why the question is being asked and who is actually asking the question. Whether it is T-SPLOST, ethics, or casino gambling, everyday Georgians are rightfully coming to realize that the question isn’t about who we are, but rather will we as a people go along funding a connected class of Georgians who operate much like members of the world’s oldest profession.
Voting yes on this question isn’t really about whether casinos should be allowed to operate in Georgia. The political reality of this question should mandate that its wording be “Do you wish to give political cover for the Governor to reverse a campaign pledge and look the other way while his appointed Georgia Lottery board grants an exclusive gambling franchise to a well connected developer”.
That is the question Georgians are actually being asked. The future of the HOPE scholarship is being dangled in front of us as the price.
If Georgians don’t want casino gambling, then voting no is an easy answer. Those that do need to pause before voting yes. Once a monopoly for video gambling is extended to Georgia Lottery Corp, there will never be true casino gambling (or horse racing) in Georgia. The state will enjoy a new source of tax revenue, and they will never allow a competitor into this playing field.
Thus, if you’re opposed to gambling vote no. If you want casino gambling or horse racing in Georgia, vote no. If you want our current crop of leaders and their sycophantic business interests to have one additional source of cash flow to tap into so that a well connected few can profit from yet another government granted monopoly franchise, then and only then should you vote yes to this question.