Georgia GOP Committee Opposes New Casino Gambling Bill

GAGOP Opposes Georgia Casino Bill

Jim Murren and Sheldon Adelson have scouted Atlanta for the best place to build a casino.

The Georgia Republican Party’s state committee voted unanimously to oppose any new casino or horse racing bills this year. The Georgia GOP (GAGOP) met over the weekend and voted to oppose the expanding gambling in the state.

Chairman John Watson, who recently won reelection to his post as head of GAGOP, recused himself in the vote. Watson worked as a lobbyist for Boyd Gaming Corp. in the past, so he has advocated for the legalization of gambling before.

Georgia GOP Committee on Casino Gambling

The resolution passed by the committee said opposition is based on a link between gambling and increasing crime rates and divorce rates. GAGOP did not cite any particular study or data to substantiate that link, but took the issue to be self-evident.

Also, the Republican Party’s committee suggested in a public statement their concern that the legalization of casino gambling might allow Native American tribes to force reservation casinos on local communities.

The statement said GAGOP did not want to allow “for any Indian tribe to venue shop for property to open casinos”.

No Opening for Tribal Casinos

Under the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs must approve reservation lands for a casino. As a general rule, tribes must show ownership or claims to land before 1934 for that land to be used for a tribal casino.

In recent years, though, the DOI has allowed private land to be used for tribal casinos. To use newly-purchased land, the tribe must do one of two things. One, the land must help consolidate existing tribal lands. For instance, a piece of land that connects to reservation areas can be used for tribal casinos.

Two, building on non-traditional land must be used to help the lives of the tribe’s members, or otherwise be used to help the tribe as a whole. This second stipulation has been used in several locations to build on non-tribal lands.

GAGOP’s Concerns

Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are building a joint venture casino in East Windsor near Hartford, Connecticut that follows those rules. The DOI agreed the East Windsor casino will help the two tribes’ and their members. The Gila River Indians in Arizona want to do the same in Glendale, though that is less likely to happen.

Of course, tribal gaming sometimes happens outside the scope of state law. Due to a landmark 1986 US Supreme Court ruling, Native American reservations are seen as sovereign land, because they signed peace treaties with the U.S. federal government long ago. This means they have the legal right to operate casinos, if the DOI approved of the plan and the state comes to a gaming compact with the tribe.

In those cases, the state must act in good faith. While the state government can collect revenues on tribal casino taxes, this must not exceed what is needed to pay for regulation and oversight. A statewide ban in Georgia therefore does not preclude a land-based casino being built.

GAGOP Resolution on “Predatory Activities”

GAGOP said their resolution also wishes to protect Georgia’s residents from the more general threat of a gambling. The resolution stated, “The state should not have a vested interest in predatory activities such as gambling for the sake of filling state coffers at the expense of ruined lives and broken families.”

Georgia’s Republican Party leadership wanted to stifle any new legislation being introduced to the legislature, after bills were discussed in late 2016 and early 2017. Those bills involved at least 2 resort-casinos in Georgia’s major cities. Atlanta, Savannah, and Athens were discussed as potential locations. Earlier bills called for more casinos, to be allotted in different sections of the state. MGM Resorts and Las Vegas Sands Corp each looked at potential real estate for casinos in multiple cities.

2016 Georgia Casino Bill

The possibility of casino legalization caused many religious groups to organize against destination resorts of the type being discussed. Critics of the plan believe casinos lead to increased crime, while leading to social problems such as gambling addiction, spiraling debt, and bankruptcy.

Proponents of online gambling and daily fantasy sports should take heart that their chosen form of gambling was not included. The original version of the GAGOP resolution also called for blocking any bills that would legalize DFS. Fantasy sports was struck from the bill in later versions.

Trey Kelley’s Fantasy Sports Bill

State Rep. Trey Kelley, who has sponsored fantasy sports bills in the past, praised the Republic Party for dismissing “rhetorical cries” to include the online gambling in the resolution. Some lawmakers wanted to classify online poker as a game of skill, just like Trey Kelley argued before the Georgia legislature to declare fantasy sports a “game of skill”

GAGOP did not list online poker as a game of skill, though. Skilled poker players would argue the point with Trey Kelley, but those arguments will fall on deaf ears in Georgia. Rep. Kelley said in reply to a question, “The Georgia GOP faithful made a conscious decision to remove fantasy sports from this resolution. Their action is in line with my repeated statements and the beliefs of mainstream Georgians that fantasy sports is a game of skill and a completely different issue from casino gambling.

When he spoke about DFS before the Georgia House’s Ways and Means Committee in 2015, Trey Kelley said, “To me, the issues are separate. I have serious reservations about pure gambling in our state, but games of skill are already allowed. Golf tournaments, bass fishing tournaments, skeet shoots. We already allow those. I just see this as the proper classification.”