Georgia players win some, lose some as state legislature reaches final round

A resolution to bring horse racing to Georgia failed to pass a legislative hurdle in the Senate on Tuesday, nearly dooming the effort for the year, but players can still pin their hopes on a bill from the Room to increase payouts for coin-operated amusement machines, or COAMs, commonly found at gas stations and convenience stores.

“I’m disappointed in my colleagues,” said Republican Sen. for Chickamauga Jeff Mullis, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee and a longtime supporter of introducing race tracks in Georgia. “I was really hoping you’d let us go to the ballot, and that’s all it did was bring it to the ballot, and I’d like you to reconsider.”

Senator Jeff Mullis. Recorder Ross Williams/Georgia

Senate Resolution 131 received a majority vote, 33 to 20, but because it called for a referendum to change the state constitution, it required a two-thirds majority vote rather than a simple majority.

Backers tried to convince their skeptical colleagues by citing a Georgia Southern University study that found the industry would generate $1.28 billion in economic impact and bring more than 8,500 new jobs to the state. .

Sen. Billy Hickman, a Republican from Statesboro who breeds horses to race in other states, sought to allay concerns that the three tracks authorized by the bill would bring in historic racing machines, which opponents say are basically slot machines with a different but equally addictive name.

“The word casinos is nowhere in this bill. Nowhere does this bill say the word casinos, Hickman said. “Nowhere does this bill say the word slot machines, okay? I want you to keep that in mind, because that’s how it is, okay? But it allows horse racing, which is a big agricultural industry.

Sen. Ed Harbison, a Democrat from Columbus, tried to mollify fellow lawmakers with a higher education funding sweetener.

“I remember when we did the lottery, a lot of people were opposed to the lottery, a lot of people right now who are benefiting from lottery revenue in education, I guarantee you, they were against it, they were into it. are opposed, because it’s gambling, they opposed it, because it would be bad for Georgia,” he said. “Right now, Georgia is a showpiece of the nation, for sponsoring their children’s education, for students in the state of Georgia, children do not have to leave the state of Georgia because of the great program we have at the lottery. ”

But their arguments were not enough to convince enough senators to sign the bill.

Republican Senator Marty Harbin of Tyrone said he was not comfortable with the business model.

“When I give my money to Chick-fil-A, they give me a sandwich, there is an exchange of values. When I give my money to Coca-Cola, there is an exchange of values,” he said. “But here is the problem. In gambling, for there to be a winner, there must be a loser. The system only works if there is a loser. It is not an equal exchange of value.

Harbin said he fears more people will become addicted to gambling on race tracks.

“We all met people who couldn’t handle the game,” he said. “It’s a health issue, because among those who are addicted to gambling, there’s also a high suicide rate that goes along with that.”

When the resolution was voted down, Mullis managed to reconsider, which kept horse racing fans hopeful this year that Mullis could somehow get enough votes to pass the plan by the end of the year. Tuesday key deadline.

Ever the showman, Mullis kept political watchers in Georgia guessing until the Senate nearly adjourned, rising to speak before the final gavel.

“You know, I had a bad day today and my friends dumped me,” he said. “But I am determined. I suggest that this Senate bill not be taken off the table.

“Thank you for this theatrical performance,” said Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan.

Ride on coin-operated amusement machines

In the House, a bill to extend payouts to electronic gambling players hit terror after an initial loss.

House Bill 1424 makes several changes to the law relating to these machines, including allowing operators to offer non-reloadable gift cards worth up to $50 as prizes.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Alan Powell, a Republican from Hartwell, said the purpose of the bill was to discourage such operators from illegally offering cash prizes.

Representative Alan Powell. Recorder Ross Williams/Georgia

“You may remember this discussion from last year, the idea that a lot of us had, where you see a lot of cases where there are people who are being asked to pay cash, and going to the gift card so they can redeem for non-cash prizes or restaurants or certificates, and that would hopefully stop eating up illegal traffic,” he said.

Atlanta Democratic Rep. Stacey Evans opposed the bill, saying the state wasn’t getting enough of a cut to warrant an expansion.

“We must make no mistake that these machines are not attracting nuisance, they are creating nuisance and problems in our community,” she said. “And as with any gaming operation of any kind, we might be willing to take the bad if there’s an overwhelming good, and I can’t explain to you how the COAM industry was able to establish itself in this state and only give us 10% of proceeds for educational purposes for HOPE and pre-k, which they are doing right now, 10%.

Bill failed to win the required majority the first time around, failing 88-79, but a second push by Powell later that night saw more success, going 100-67.