Georgia Regulated Industries Committee Plans a Casino Bill Vote on Thursday, February 23

Casino Bill and Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia

Gov. Nathan Deal said he would support the casino bill if it did not harm the lottery’s HOPE scholarship program.

A Georgia Senate committee plans a vote on a casino bill next week. Senate Bill 79 would authorize two land-based casinos for the state of Georgia.

The bill was proposed by Sen. Brandon Beach of Georgia. Sen. Beach said the vote on SB 79 is planned for next Thursday, February 23.

Senate Resolution 249

Sen. Beach introduced a resolution to the Georgia Senate a few days earlier. The resolution is a proposal to amend the Georgia Constitution to legalize brick-and-mortar casinos in the state.

If passed, the bill would allow up to two land-based casinos to be built in Georgia. One would be built in either Cobb, DeKalb, Clayton, Gwinnett, or Fulton counties. Those counties include some of the largest municipalities in the state, such as Savannah and Augusta.

Location of Second Georgia Casino

A second casino license is more open-ended, but appears to be tooled for the city of Atlanta. SB 79 calls for the second casino to be built within 30 miles of a major convention center. Since Atlanta is the most obvious location of convention centers in the state, it is the most likely recipient of the second casino license.

Because the wording is less precise, it would allow city-level and county-level political leaders in the aforementioned counties to compete for the second license, too. In some cases, that would require the building of a convention center. In others, such facilities might need to be expanded or renovated in order to qualify.

Tax Rate under SB 79

Under Brandon Beach’s proposal, land-based casino gambling revenues would be taxed at a 20% rate. Thirty percent of that tax money would go to the HOPE Scholarship Fund. Another 30% would be directed to needs-based college scholarships.

An additional 15% of funds would be set aside for rural healthcare programs. Another 15% would go to rural trauma care. The final 10% of the gaming revenue allotment is being negotiated by lawmakers.

Failed 2016 Georgia Casino Bill

Most Georgia lawmakers who have discussed the issue state Senate Bill 79 is an improvement over a bill that failed to gain support in 2016. The earlier iteration of a Georgia casino bill would have authorized up to 6 casino licenses. So many casinos could have saturated the gaming market, thus making the economic impact on their local areas less lucrative.

The new bill retains some of the flexibility of the bill which lost a committee vote in June 2016, while making less of a footprint on Georgia’s social fabric. Faith-based groups in southern states oppose gambling bills like their counterparts in northern states, but Southern religious activists tend to have more resources and popular support.

For Georgia lawmakers, having to justify 2 casinos is must less odious than justifying 6 casinos. A lawmaker can more credibly suggest that the two authorized casinos are going to be placed elsewhere in the state. With 6 casinos, all regions likely would have at least one casino.

Senate Regulated Industries Committee Vote

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee is the committee which plans to vote on Senate Bill 79 on Thursday. Brandon Beach said, if the bill passes a committee vote on Thursday, he has the 29 votes it would take to pass Senate Bill 79 on the floor of the Georgia Senate.

If Beach’s casino initiative passed in the Senate, then the Georgia House of Representatives would need to pass similar legislation. Assuming SB 79 would not have the votes to override a veto, Republican Governor Nathan Deal then would need to sign the casino bill into law. Gov. Deal’s support might be the biggest hurdle, because Deal has indicated he does not support casino gambling before.

Nathan Deal’s Stance on Casino Gambling

In January 2017, Gov. Deal said he would not oppose a casino bill, if the creation of new casinos did not “devastate” lottery funding for the HOPE scholarship program. From the governor’s statement, it is uncertain whether casino funding for the HOPE scholarship factors into the decision.

A careful study of Nathan Deal’s statement suggested he does not want to damage the Georgia State Lottery in any shape or fashion. Deal said, “We need to be absolutely certain that if a casino bill passes, it doesn’t adversely impact a lottery program for the state. That is the first big marker — to make sure that we don’t devastate what is probably perceived as the most successful lottery program in the country.

Georgia’s lottery is considered a leader in the nation. It was the Georgia lottery which began selling lotto tickets online. Online lottery sales are one of the reasons Restore America’s Wire Act is unlikely to gain support in the U.S. Congress, because conservative states like Georgia still rely on online lottery revenues.

February 23 Meeting Canceled

Updating the previous story, the Thursday, February 23 meeting was canceled. Details are still scarce at the moment, but the early speculation is the future of the 2017 casino bill is in doubt. US Poker Sites will report more when developments become clearer.