Governor’s Signature Irrelevant For Georgia Gambling

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (l.) said he still opposes expanded gambling in the state because "it doesn't offer benefits that outweigh the negatives." But recently he said he would allow a constitutional amendment allowing casinos to become law if a majority of voters statewide approved it in a 2016 ballot referendum.

Though still strongly opposed to expanded gambling in Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal indicated he may not veto a constitutional amendment that would allow casinos. Gaming revenue would go to the struggling HOPE scholarship program. The amendment would require a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate and approval from a majority of voters statewide in a 2016 ballot referendum. Deal would have to sign the enabling legislation that would detail how the casinos would be regulated in Georgia.

Deal said he remained opposed to casino gambling because “it doesn’t offer benefits that outweigh the negatives.” However, he noted if a significant majority of voters approved the legislation, he would not veto it. “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,” said Deal.

He would have 40 days to sign or veto a gambling bill after the legislative session ended. Or if he takes no action during that time, a measure automatically would become law.

Regarding MGM Resorts International’s interest in a $1 billion casino complex in Atlanta, Deal said, “It doesn’t surprise me at all. They’re willing to take the gamble.” House Speaker David Ralston stated he’s “open to positive ideas,” although he added, “I’m not advocating” for gambling.

Ralston noted, “There’s been a lot of interest in parimutuel betting in the House for a number of years now, and some people have the view for that to be successful you have to have casinos to supplement them. I don’t have the answer to that. In my view, it comes out of the whole horseracing discussion. There seems to be a split of opinion about whether horseracing, standing alone, can be financially viable or whether you need both.”

A legislative study committee is investigating the issue, Ralston said. He noted the subject of decoupling horseracing from casinos is won over a few formerly skeptical lawmakers.