2017 may be the year that the state of Georgia finally legalizes casino gaming and pari-mutuel racing. Proponents of both activities are now working together in the hopes of pushing legislation into reality.
The Georgia Horse Racing Coalition has been trying for several years to see a decision in regard to pari-mutuel betting appear on the ballot for voters to decide if the activity should be allowed in the state. The new legislative session started on January 9, and a new attempt at legislation will be made – this time with as many as five casinos to be allowed in the state along with a racino.
In the past, pari-mutuel wagering legalization attempts have stressed the connection between horse racing and agriculture. Proponents feel that breeding and training facilities would help the state, a fact that they hope will push opponents to their side. Georgia Horse Racing Coalition Executive Director Steven Crane stated that the group feels that on its own, horse racing does not provide enough tax revenues but with resort style gaming, enough is created where an uptick would be seen across the state.
The Hope scholarship of the state, a program that once funded 100% of tuition for college students who qualified, now only covers 70% of tuition due to low funding. The scholarships are completely funded by the state lottery but there is not enough to cover the full price now, like the state would like to do again.
For 2017, legislative proposals for the state include one that would place a constitutional amendment before voters next year to see new forms of gambling legalized. If the amendment is approved, the local governments would need to be approved by local voters on the next ballot to be able to operate a casino or racetrack. Once settled locally, the county or city would then need to apply for a license, one of six that would be available in the state.
A separate bill would be created to outline the licenses available, where the venues could be located, and minimum investment needed by the operator. Looking at the broad terms, the state would allow as many as five casinos and one racetrack. A resort style casino could be located within a 25-mile radius of the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport of Atlanta with no less than $1 billion invested in the property.
Four secondary licenses would be allowed but they could not operate within a 50-mile radius of the primary licensed casinos. $250 million or more must be invested in the properties. A license for a horse track would require an investment of at least $150 million.
As far as Crane is concerned, a racetrack would be created in the Atlanta area. Crane says that pari-mutuel group has envisioned a world-class facility with elevated walkways around the track, residential areas and entertainment areas, innovative infield space and more.