It might be one small step for the gambling industry, but it would be a giant leap for the state of Georgia. A pair of Georgia horse racing bills recently moved closer to posing a question to the state’s voters of whether to allow the largest expansion of gaming in their state in three decades.
However, connected bills would only put whether to allow up to five tracks in the state along with wagering on the races there on this fall’s ballot. The issues of whether to allow Georgia casinos and sportsbooks in the state are separate matters entirely in terms of this proposal.
Georgia horse racing bills advance out of committee
Last Wednesday, the GA Senate Regulated Industries Committee nearly unanimously advanced SR 131 and SB 212. SR 131 puts a potential constitutional amendment before voters. SB 212 handles the administration of that amendment should it become part of the state’s constitution.
The question before voters would have a few components. First, it would ask whether the people of the state want to authorize horse racetracks. Additionally, it would pose the question of whether to allow wagering on the races.
The enabling legislation would build on those permissions. It would create up to five licenses and establish a Georgia Horse Racing Commission. In addition to betting on the live races at each track, patrons could also bet on simulcast races while there.
Neither piece of legislation would authorize wagering on horse races online in GA. Furthermore, it would not allow for any other kind of gaming at the properties. In some states, laws allow licensees to create “racinos” as racetracks with slot machines.
SB 212 would require each track to pay 3.75% of its revenue to the state. It earmarks the tax proceeds for education, gambling addiction services, healthcare, and rural broadband.
Because it’s a proposed constitutional amendment, SR 131 has to clear a higher bar. The state’s constitution says potential amendments must receive a super-majority (2/3) approval from each chamber before they go to the voters. From there, the process requires a simple majority of the state’s registered voters in its favor.
SB 212 follows the normal legislative track. It might have a better shot of completing that track because it focuses so narrowly on horse racing, too.
Horse racing proposal might not run afoul of robust opposition
In past years, attempts to expand gambling in GA beyond the lottery have met staunch opposition from conservative and religious groups in the state. The resistance might prove less adamant on this isolated issue, though.
Mike Griffin, a lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, told Maya T. Prabhu of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “pure horse racing” is “the lesser of three evils.” Griffin did also express concern that it was just opening the door to more types of gaming in the future, though. He also reasserted that the group he represents opposes gambling in all forms.
The other two “evils” that Griffin likely referred to are casinos and sportsbooks. There’s been more movement in Georgia on the latter than the former. Last year, a proposal to put sports betting on the ballot cleared the Georgia Senate.
However, the full GA House has yet to vote on it. The issue might come up in that body at some point this year, though. GA House Speaker David Ralston has submitted his own proposal. For that reason, it seems likely there will at least be debate and a vote on the GA House floor on gambling expansion this term.
Ralston’s proposal would essentially give the state legislature the power to decide which forms of gambling will be legal in GA. Currently, the state’s constitution reserves that authority for the voters. While that could include horse tracks and betting on races, there’s no guarantee it would.
With Ralston’s amendment, the door would be wide open to myriad possibilities. SR 131’s scope is far narrower, and that’s why it might stand a better chance of reaching voters. If its broad support in the Senate committee is any indication, Georgians should expect to saddle up within the next few years.