Georgia Lawmakers Consider Gambling Measure

House Resolution 807 would let Georgia voters approve a constitutional amendment allowing six casinos in five licensing regions. Before it can go on the 2016 general election ballot, the resolution must pass a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate. The signature of Governor Nathan Deal (l.) would not be required.

In Georgia, legislators are reviewing House Resolution 807 that would let voters in the 2016 general election decide on a constitutional amendment to allow licensed casino resorts in the state. The resolution first must get a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate. Governor Nathan Deal’s signature would not be required. The amendment would allow six casinos in five licensing regions; the Atlanta and Fulton County region could have two casinos. The other four regions could have one casino each.

State Rep. Nikki Randall, a Macon Democrat, said, “In my district alone, several buses leave here and go to Alabama and to Florida and Mississippi to visit casinos two or three times a month.” State Rep. James E. “Bubber” Epps, a Dry Branch Republican, said, “I think the right perspective is to let the voters of this state make a statement whether they want to move our state forward in this direction.”

Currently MGM Resorts International, Boyd Gaming and Penn National Gaming are scouting casino locations in Atlanta. Each could invest up to $1 billion in a casino complex downtown.

Democratic Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed firmly opposes casino gambling. “I believe Las Vegas is in Las Vegas for a reason. I have a real issue with putting a gambling facility in Atlanta,” he said, adding when he visits Detroit he usually stays at the MGM casino hotel. “I don’t like what I see. I see people with employee tags from an auto company playing the slot machines. I don’t see tourists.” However, Reed said, he would be willing to discuss a casino deal with MGM representatives. “It would be fiscal malpractice not to. I’d have an obligation to hear those folks out,” he said.

Deal, a Republican, recently said, “I am opposed to casino gambling. It does not offer benefits that outweigh the costs.” However, if the House and Senate both vote next session to put a constitutional amendment allowing casinos on the general election ballot, it would go directly onto the ballot. Then if voters approve it in 2016, the legislature would have to adopt “enabling legislation” in 2017, specifying how casinos would be operated and regulated by the state. The governor could veto that legislation but Deal has said, “Once you have the vote of the people, and it expresses the will of the people of the state, it certainly puts any implementing legislation in a different light. I don’t have to sign anything for it to become law.”