As Georgia legislators prepare for another all-out debate over legalizing gambling, opponents will have an important ally.
The Georgia GOP state committee overwhelmingly passed a resolution over the weekend that opposes casinos and horse racing.
John Watson, the recently-elected chair of the Georgia GOP, recused himself from the Saturday vote. Watson, a veteran operative and lobbyist, has advocated for legalizing gambling on behalf of Boyd Gaming Corp.
The resolution cited concerns that gambling is tied to increasing crime and divorce rates, and warns it could open the door “for any Indian tribe to venue shop for property to open casinos” around the state.
“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,” read the resolution.
Casino advocates have sought for years to legalize gambling in Georgia, arguing that it could bolster the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship, which pays the in-state college tuition for students who maintain a 3.0 grade point average, as well as the pre-K program.
But the idea has triggered a flood of opposition from religious conservatives and other critics of the measure, and many united against legislation this year that would allow two “destination resort” casinos.
Update: An initial version of the resolution also would have included fantasy sports betting, but that was stricken from the text.
State Rep. Trey Kelley, who sponsored legislation to reclassify fantasy sports so it doesn't violate anti-gambling restrictions, said he was grateful activists ignored "rhetorical cries" to include the online games in the resolution.
"The Georgia GOP faithful made a conscious decision to remove fantasy sports from this resolution," he said. "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."
Here’s the full text of the resolution:
WHEREAS, Georgia Republican legislators have introduced legislation that would allow for casino gambling in Georgia; and
WHEREAS, the gambling bills now mask the negative connotations of casino gambling by referring to casinos euphemistically as “destination resorts”; and
WHEREAS, the usual arguments for opening the state to casino and horse racing continue to be, "this will create jobs" and "it is for the children" because it will generate revenue for Pre- K and for the HOPE scholarship, and
WHEREAS, these reasons fail to overcome the substantial societal costs of casino and horse racing, which include:
- because gamblers are twice as likely to divorce as non- gamblers,
- an increase in local crime by at least ten percent within five years or less after the establishment of a casino, including an increase in prostitution;
- local job loss because local citizens change their spending habits,
- an increase in bankruptcies, and
- an increase in child neglect and domestic violence; and
WHEREAS, all tax payers, including non-gamblers, end up paying higher taxes for these publicly borne social costs; and
WHEREAS, the proposed establishment of the gambling industry in Georgia violates free- market principles by instituting a politically protected industry that will drain customers from legitimate businesses not similarly protected; and
WHEREAS, once the gambling industry is allowed to operate legally in the state, its lobbying power will grow and increase its influence over legislators and local community officials; and
WHEREAS, once the State of Georgia allows Class III gambling, this would open the door for any Indian tribe to “venue shop” for property to open casinos on land that would be taken out of the governance of the State and off the local tax digest; and
WHEREAS, 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;
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, We, the delegates of Georgia Republican Convention, urge the members of the Georgia Legislature to cease and desist with any efforts to open the State of Georgia to casino and horse racing;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Secretary of Georgia Republican Party Convention is directed to immediately transmit an appropriate copy of this resolution to the Chairman of the Georgia Republican Party and to all elected Republican officials in the Georgia Senate and in the Georgia House; to the Honorable Nathan Deal, Governor of the State of Georgia, the Honorable Casey Cagle, Lieutenant Governor of the State of Georgia; and to the Honorable David Ralston, Speaker of the House of Representatives.