Senator Brandon Beach and members of the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition presented an optimistic picture of what horse racing and pari-mutuel wagering would bring to the state of Georgia at a meeting of the State Senate Regulated Industries Committee Wednesday afternoon. The committee was considering Senate Resolution 135, which would allow a vote by the people on a constitutional amendment to permit racing and wagering.
In introducing the measure, Sen. Beach called it an economic development bill that would bring jobs to Georgia in the areas of agriculture, hospitality, and tourism, along with those affiliated with running a racetrack. Jack Damico, VP and Treasurer of the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition said that the group anticipated having two ten day racing periods each year, one in the fall and one in the spring, that would include a Georgia Cup and a Georgia Derby. The Georgia races would fit nicely between winter racing in Florida and summer racing in Kentucky.
Should racing and wagering be permitted in the Peach State, supporters estimate it would bring in $31 million worth of scholarships, and create 4-6,000 jobs directly, along with many others indirectly.
The key benefits, according to Senator Beach, would be that the effort would be privately financed, with no state money involved. Up to 87% of the money wagered would be from out of state, and that the betting would complement the current lottery, rather than competing with it. In addition, the proponents claimed they oppose having casino gambling at the racetrack, saying that a casino would detract from the racing environment.
While those in favor of the bill painted a rosy picture, other witnesses felt otherwise. Mike Griffin of the Georgia Baptist Convention testified that his organization opposes gambling, and thinks that horse racing is the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent that would ultimately bring in casino gambling. Griffin was followed by Paul Smith of Citizen’s Impact, a group that represents several hundred Georgia churches. Smith claimed that while racing and wagering may be bringing in new jobs, some of those jobs would be law enforcement and mental health professionals needed to deal with a possible epidemic of gambling addiction.
The committee planned to have only a hearing, and not to take a vote on the measure. It’s unknown when the committee might hold a vote, and whether there would be additional hearings on the measure. In any case, the bill’s supporters and opponents had made their opinions known.