By: Emma Wheeler | WCTV Eyewitness News
November 19, 2019
VALDOSTA, Ga. (WCTV) -- Georgia State Representatives are doubling down on a new way to generate some major dollars in the Peach State.
Earlier this year, the Georgia House of Representatives formed a new Economic Development Committee. Members are tasked with identifying and looking at economic issues communities are facing across the state.
On top of their list is an effort to legalize gambling, which would allow casinos, horse racing and sports betting to take place in the state.
Committee members are now on a statewide 'listening tour' to discuss the matter with local communities. Its first stop was Tuesday in Valdosta. Many local officials and committees spoke in favor of the proposal.
"We have the honor to not only grow the economy in this community, but also improve the quality of life through business revenues and the local taxes that we drive. That, in turn, gets spent in our community and benefits our citizens," said Sandra Roose, with the Valdosta-Lowndes County Conference Center and Tourism Authority, speaking during the committee meeting.
The committee is looking at three systems: casinos, horse racing and sports betting, which state officials said all serve a different purpose. Officials said it's an industry that generates billions of dollars between gaming taxes, new infrastructure, job creation and tourism.
Chairman Rep. Allen Powell estimates that horse racing alone would add billions to the state agriculture industry, and nearly two dozen jobs for every race horse.
Powell said right now, Georgians are going elsewhere to gamble, like Alabama, North Carolina, or boats off of Jekyll island. He said, it's money that the state is missing out on, that could go a long ways to helping communities.
"To me, healthcare would be the ideal place because it benefits every Georgian and every citizen," Powell said. "Across party, across gender, across race, across economic status. If that money, if the people of Georgia legalize it, then the revenues could go to healthcare."
Because it would require a constitutional amendment, legislators cannot legalize gambling. Instead, it has to be presented as a referendum, and its fate left in the hands of voters.
The committee will continue touring across the state. Members said the goal is to get a referendum on the November 2020 ballot.