A bipartisan panel of Georgia state lawmakers on Friday agreed a casino bill will come before them in 2017 and anticipated the fight would come down to details, including how to spend the proceeds.
Speaking to a luncheon of the Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association in Buckhead, state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said a similar proposal that did not pass this year was badly flawed and that he expects a better bill in the coming months.
“If we approve this and bring casino gambling or pari-mutuel betting or both we have to get it right the first time,” Miller, who serves as one of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Senate floor leaders, said.
It would take a two-thirds majority of both the House and the Senate to give voters the chance to allow casinos and/or horse racing in Georgia. Getting to that point, Miller and others said, will depend on what is in the proposal.
“The first question is do we want to allow this type of gambling in our state,” state Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, said. “Once we decide that question … what are we going to do with the money? For me and I think most of my Democratic colleagues to even start this conversation, that money has to go where it’s desperately needed and that’s needs-based aid for college.”
Evans has been a leader in an effort to restore funding for lottery-funded HOPE scholarships and grants. This past session’s casino proposal would have used tax proceeds and licensing fees to boost HOPE’s coffers. But Rep. Geoff Duncan, R-Cumming, said Friday, the two should not necessarily be tied together.
“I have a problem with the correlation between fixing HOPE and casinos,” he said. “HOPE is a tuition and spending issue and I don’t feel like more money is going to solve that problem. I want to make sure the conversation is a legitimate conversation. Don’t just let that blur through for HOPE.”
Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, too, raised questions about the 2016 casino bill, specifically supporters’ claims that it would raise $1 billion for the state.
“I was a little suspicious about some of the dollar figures,” she said. “It’s not as though just because you open a casino in Georgia people all of a sudden have more money to spend.”