Georgia and Gambling -, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Georgia and Gambling

Gambling in the United States is a $90 billion industry. In Georgia alone, the lottery transferred $11.4 billion to the State Treasury's Lottery for education in the last 16 years.

Some think it's time Georgia looked at other forms of gambling to add tourism dollars and jobs.

The wheels on Skylight Tours buses are rolling again, headed to casinos in neighboring states taking money out of Georgia.

"We go to Tunica Mississippi, Biloxi, Mississippi and also to Shorter, Alabama," said Tours Owner Larry Blakely.

Blakely's bus leaves every three to four weeks, and the groups are big spenders. "They spend money to stay overnight, eat a meals. Most time when people go over there that's money that they have saved up and planned for the trip and they go over there and enjoy themselves."

Georgia's had the lottery since 1992. House Resolution 1177 would give Georgia voters a chance to consider horse racing and para-mutual wagering. That's a system of betting on races where the winners divide the total amount bet, after deducting management expenses. The bill's sponsor claims it will create jobs and raise local and state revenues.

Governor Sonny Perdue worries it could strain lottery funds. "I am concerned that there is only so much money that goes into the gaming dollar and that would cannibalize the money we have going to our lottery and Hope Scholarship and Pre-Kindergarten."

Former State Representative John White, who supported the lottery, believes horse racing and para-mutual betting could be a new industry for the state. Each horse that races creates seven jobs.

"We would create lots of jobs for building the horse tracks for the maintenance of the horse tracks, the feeding of the horses, so it would be a new industry for us," said the Albany native.

Pennsylvania opened the door to gaming several years ago, and now for every dollar played in a slot machine, 55 cents goes back to the state to fund property tax relief.

"We are missing out and its going to take the courage of somebody in the legislature to step up," White said.

Critics point to what's happening in neighboring Alabama where charitable bingo has turned into a big money maker for casinos, that have twisted state law to include slot machines, leading to the recent Governor's raids.

"When you let one thing in then people start justifying their ills because you've already allowed one thing in so yeah, it would just snowball," said Institutional First Baptist Rev. Clifford Browner.

Are these concerns gambling away potential jobs and money for the state? Some understand the cost.

"Business people do because they're in the business of making money and providing services, so we have to sell that those of us who understand what it can do," White said.

Despite what economic increase it may bring, here in the Bible belt religious leaders remain opposed to more gambling.

"No, no, no, no, no, no," said Jordan Grove Missionary Baptist Church Rev. Jasper Crawford.  "I'm still not advocating for gambling, for more gambling in Georgia."

Saying for one of the nations poorest Congressional districts, the temptation of gambling isn't what the region needs.

"Spending ten dollars here, twenty dollars there and then after a while as the pots get bigger, the outlay from the individual families get greater and greater," Crawford said.

But can Georgia afford to sit on the sidelines? Horse racing and para-mutual betting is legal in 38 states. Florida Governor Charlie Christ has put money in his budget for a Seminole gambling deal that would allow casino gambling beyond Indian reservations.

"We have to open our ears and eyes to the rest of that," John White said.

If the legislature sees fit it could be a question many voters are pondering, in November should there be gambling in Georgia. 

Electronic bingo is expected to be the hot topic this week in the Alabama. On Tuesday the Senate to debate a bill that would allow three closed casinos to reopen and more to be built in our neighboring state to the west.

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