Georgia lawmakers take up legalizing gambling

Published: Jan. 14, 2020 at 5:48 PM EST
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Emma Wheeler | WCTV Eyewitness News

January 14, 2020

VALDOSTA, Ga. (WCTV) -- Could casinos be coming to the Peach State? That's just one of the big questions facing Georgia lawmakers as they spend the next 40 days in Atlanta.

The 2020 Georgia legislative session began Monday, and several state representatives are pushing to legalize gambling and sports betting. But while the proposal has momentum at the State Capital, it has a long road ahead.

Last year the House Economic Development Committee toured committees across the state, including Valdosta in November. One of their goals was to explore legalizing gambling, and what that would mean for different communities.

State neighbors to the north and west allow gambling, and some state representatives say that's a profit Georgia is missing out on, that could be used to fund things like affordable healthcare.

Some Valdosta residents say they don't believe the money is worth it.

"With casinos you would get some type of business, but you really won't at the same time because people don't really stop in Valdosta," said Kagan Ewings.

Trinity Kostyu believes there are more cons than pros to the proposal.

"There's definitely cons to it because what comes with gambling, a lot of people get cheated out, people get mad and violence happens," Kostyu added.

Following the committee meeting in November, Mayor Scott James Matheson said he's weary of the proposal, pointing out the billion-dollar licensing fee it would take to make gambling happen, saying the potential revenue is a short term fix.

"I want a long range vision for my city," James said. "I want to be the best small city in America, I don't want to be the gambling place. You can have a slogan, you can have direction, you can have a vision but you're the gambling place if you decide to accept that."

Officials with Rep. Alan Powell's office said Tuesday that they do have a resolution ready to be dropped, but they are waiting to see whether they have the votes. Officials said it is still an ongoing discussion.

The proposal would require a constitutional amendment, which means it will require a two-thirds majority approval by both the House and General Assembly. If it gains that approval, the measure will then be put to a referendum to ultimately be in the hands of voters.

Georgia lawmakers will also need to pass a new state budget. Governor Brian Kemp says he plans to cut state spending by four percent.

Democrats are also expected to push back on the "heartbeat bill" abortion ban passed last year.

Gun control background checks and health care are also expected to take center stage this legislative session.

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