At one o’clock today, Senator Brandon Beach will be presenting Senate Bill 79 to the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, in the hopes that the state of Georgia will become more open to the idea of casino gaming. There is no plan to have a vote today but the meeting will see the plan questioned by fellow lawmakers of the state. Beach has been busy reworking his plan to try and see success during the first hearing.
Although it may be too early to gauge the impact of the latest gaming lobbyist to register in the state, former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour – a longtime friend of current Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, his considerable sway adds to a litany of other behind the scenes actors wishing to sway the vote. In December 2015 there were 21 gaming and anti-gaming lobbyists registered with the Georgia Ethics Commission, 14 of them from MGM. As of today, there are more than 40 registered according to public reports. Barbour reportedly registered to lobby for Wynn Resorts in November, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Other big names in the fight an Atlanta casino license include Las Vegas Sands, Penn National Gaming, Elite Casino Resorts, Boyd Gaming Corp.
As it was previously written, the measure would allow two casino destination resorts to be created. One could be placed in a county where the population surpasses the 900,000 while the other could be placed in a county with a smaller population of 250,000 or more. The larger of the two would be located near Atlanta as Fulton County is the only area in which the higher population applies.
In the original version of the bill, it states that a 20 percent tax will be in place with 70 percent of this tax going towards the HOPE scholarship program. Needs-based scholarships would be created from the remaining 30 percent. However, today, Beach plans on revealing changes during the meeting in the hopes that his bill will be more readily accepted by lawmakers.
There was some annoyance with the stipulation of the second casino to be located in a smaller county as many felt this would put Augusta and Columbus out of the running. Beach heard these complaints and changed the number to 200,000 residents, now giving these areas a chance to compete for the casino license.
A second change to the bill involves the way the proceeds are spent. The HOPE proceeds have been lowered to 50 percent and will see a 20 percent portion go towards rural health care needs. Beach sees this as an opportunity to place new revenues into rural hospitals. Such hospitals have been closing across the state for many years now.