Legislation approved by a state House committee on Thursday could mean as many as four casino resorts for the state of Georgia.
A constitutional amendment asking voters to allow casinos as well as legislation that would dictate the location, means of operation, and spending of revenue, were overwhelmingly approved by the Regulated Industries Committee. Thursdays vote means both of the bills could reach the House floor prior to Monday’s Crossover Day. That is the day when the bills must win passage from one of the legislative chambers, without parliamentary maneuvering, or lose any chance of becoming law this year.
If House Resolution 807 (pdf) is approved by the legislature Georgia voters would be asked to amend the state constitution to legalize casinos, while House Bill 677 (pdf) limits the number of licensed resort facilities allowed in the state to four, including two in metro Atlanta and two in other areas of the state.
Since first being introduced HB 677 has undergone major changes. The version passed Thursday includes: a 20 percent tax on casino revenue; requires minimum investments of $1.25 billion for one Atlanta-area casino and $750 million for the other, with a $400 million investment for the final two statewide licenses; a $40 million fee to be paid by a casino company for the main Atlanta resort license, $25 million for the second metro location, and a fee of $15 million each for the other two casinos. Other provisions include monies for Hope scholarships, pre-k and grants as well as problem gambling organizations. In addition, a 1 to 3 percent allocation to help the communities where the facilities will be located with infrastructure and public safety costs is included.
Prior to the vote there was little discussion among lawmakers, although some committee members advocated for revenue to be earmarked for mental health or other health care. However, testimony was heard from a number of opponents, including those representing local entertainment venues worried they would lose business to the casino resorts. Lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist mission Board, Mike Griffin, said casinos would jeopardize “the moral integrity of our state,” and urged legislators to kill the bill, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
State Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah noted that a local referendum must also be held by local communities that want destination casino resorts even after the statewide vote. Stephens is the sponsor of both measures. He also read a letter from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce that urged lawmakers to pass both bills.
Legislators estimate that as much as $250 million dollars in tax revenue would be generated by the casino resorts, in addition to the creation of 10,000 direct jobs.