The Feeling is Pari-Mutuel

State Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, invited two Georgia Horse Racing Coalition executives to Albany Tuesday for an informational session to discuss the benefits of legalizing pari-mutuel betting in the state. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)

State Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, invited two Georgia Horse Racing Coalition executives to Albany Tuesday for an informational session to discuss the benefits of legalizing pari-mutuel betting in the state.

ALBANY — Legalizing pari-mutuel betting in Georgia, which would allow for a horse-racing track to be built, has floated around the state Capitol like the fabled Lost Dutchman for nearly a decade. Like the Dutchman, it’s rarely seen, but its presence is always felt.

Today, it lurks in the halls of power in the form of House Resolution 1, authored by the late Rep. Harry Geisinger, R-Roswell, who had introduced the same bill many times in an attempt to get a referendum before the voters of Georgia.

Now, as with all times before, the resolution has languished, never making it out of committee.

HR1, Geisinger’s last effort before he died in May, reads: “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution so as to authorize the General Assembly to provide by law for pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing; to provide for related matters; to provide for the submission of this amendment for ratification or rejection; and for other purposes.”

Sensing the time might be right to finally get the resolution out of committee, state Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, and state Rep. Gerald Greene, R-Cuthbert, invited Dean Reeves, president of the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition, and coalition Vice President Tom Schultie to a small gathering of regional farmers and landowners for an informational session at Merry Acres on Tuesday.

“The reason we invited them down is because Southwest Georgia is starved for information,” Sims said. “This has been around for a very long time and instead of being the last in the state to learn about the benefits of this resolution, I wanted us to be at the front.

“This is why we are having this conversation this morning. We want these gentlemen to know we want a piece of the pie when the time comes.”

The path to getting a referendum on the state’s ballots is an arduous two-step process.

First, the General Assembly has to approve placing the resolution on the ballot for approval by the voters via an amendment to the Georgia Constitution. It takes votes in the House and the Senate, with super majorities of at least two-thirds of the lawmakers in each house required for approval.

After that, the referendum would go on a ballot to be decided on by the voters of Georgia.

There is a question whether the General Assembly would bring such a possibly controversial bill to the floor during a “term election” year in which every state lawmaker’s seat is up for election.

Nevertheless, Reeves and Schultie, making their first trip to Southwest Georgia, took their swings.

“The legislation would permit all types of horse racing in Georgia, from Thoroughbred races like the Kentucky Derby and the Atlanta Steeplechase to racing for other breeds, including Standardbred trotting and pacing horses, American Quarter Horses, Arabians and others,” Reeves said.

The referendum would also permit pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing, which Reeves said would be closely regulated by the state. The new law would establish a Georgia Racing Commission to manage the sport in a principled manner, like the Georgia Athletic and Entertainment Commission that oversees boxing and martial arts in the state. Members would establish strict rules and regulations governing the sport and its participants.

Schultie added if the referendum were approved, the industry would create 5,000 direct and indirect jobs in Georgia.

“We estimate horse racing and pari-mutuel betting would generate $30 million in new revenue for the state, most of it directed toward the HOPE Scholarship fund,” he said. “Building of the new track would involve no government funding in any way; the money would all come through private investors. We’re not trying to create a new industry in Georgia, we are trying to enhance an existing one.”

Reeves pointed out that Georgia is one of just five states in which pari-mutuel betting is illegal.

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