Atlanta City Council has approved a measure that requests a ballot question to gauge residents’ interest in legalized gaming. AJC photo

Atlanta City Council asks state for gambling ballot question

The Atlanta City Council has asked the state to approve a ballot initiative to gauge whether city voters support Atlanta becoming a gambling destination in the event that gaming is legalized in Georgia.

The proposed vote would not have any immediate impact, but would send a clear message about city residents’ appetite for a casino, horse racing or sports betting.

“Why wouldn’t you want to be on the side of finding out what people want?”asked Councilwoman Marci Collier Overstreet, who sponsored an ordinance requesting the ballot question.

The council approved the measure 12-2, with council members Jennifer Ide and Natalyn Archibong voting against it.

The gaming industry has for years tried to convince state lawmakers to expand gaming in Georgia. But doing so would first require two-thirds support in each legislative chamber for sending a constitutional amendment to Georgia voters, who would ultimately decide the issue.

Supporters argue an expansion of the gaming industry would create thousands of new jobs and provide millions of dollars in revenue into the Georgia Lottery-funded HOPE scholarship.

And some believe that Gov. Brian Kemp’s call to cut state spending could make the 2020 legislative session the perfect time for lawmakers to turn to gambling as a means of filling state coffers.

Overstreet, who represents Council District 11 in southwest Atlanta, said that her understanding is that lawmakers take up requests for ballot initiatives whenever the city makes them. A close ally of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Overstreet said she did not consult with the administration before sponsoring the ordinance.

A spokesman for Bottoms did not respond to questions about whether the mayor supported the ordinance.

Overstreet, who was elected in 2017, said she has often watches people in the Kroger parking lot off Cascade Avenue fill up buses heading out of state to gamble.

The councilwoman said people in her district routinely ask why Georgia residents can’t gamble in state, and it made sense to find out what the sentiment of the entire city is. She said her request for the ballot initiative does not mean that she wants gambling in Atlanta.

“This is just about placing a question on a ballot to see if the city of Atlanta is interested in such a thing,” Overstreet told the council’s Finance Executive Committee last week. “We have not done a straw poll before. This poll could really shock me.”

The committee’s chair, Howard Shook, said at the meeting that he generally supports referendums.

“I’m always willing to take the middle man out of it and go straight to the public who we purport to serve and represent,” Shook said.

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