The casinos would still be taxed at 20 percent, and the proceeds, estimated to be in the $350 million-a-year range, would be split: 50 percent to the HOPE scholarship, 30 percent to needs-based grants for college and 20 percent for rural health care.
In the latest version of the bill, Beach has also reinserted a requirement that before a license can be awarded for a casino, voters in the county in which it would be located would have to approve. The local referendum is in addition to a statewide vote to amend the Georgia Constitution.
But the language of the county referendum caused at least one senator pause.
"I'm not sure it will tell someone who read that it's really about casino gambling or the gaming industry," said state Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon.
The ballot question, according to the latest draft of the bill, would ask: “Shall the Georgia Gaming Commission be authorized to issue a license for a destination resort to be located in (name of county or municipality)?”
Kennedy noted that the words “gambling” and “casino” were not in there. Beach assured him the language would be adjusted.
Beach was buoyed by Erik Balsbaugh, vice president of the American Gaming Association, who told senators that “gaming popularity in the United States is at an all-time high. It’s more mainstream and popular than ever before.”
Perhaps sensing the room full of Baptist preachers, Balsbaugh also said 1 in 3 casino visitors attend religious services regularly and 1 in 4 are “born again Christians,” according to a survey the industry commissioned.
But those preachers were unmoved.
“We’re concerned this is an issue of money being put over morality,” said Mike Griffin, a public affairs representative of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. “That the end justifies the means. All these ornaments are being put on the Christmas tree, it’s almost like 30 pieces of silver to get everyone to buy into this.”
One more word of warning came from A.J. Robinson, the president of Central Atlanta Progress, a downtown civic organization. Robinson said his group recently conducted a study that found "casinos generate a lot of money, but they have their drawbacks."
“The revenue is generated by locals, not tourists,” he said, and the Georgia Lottery, now the only source of funds for the HOPE scholarship, could face “cannibalization” by casinos.
“The social impacts are real, and those who are close to the casino will deal most with the impact,” he said.
State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, however, said Atlanta competes with cities such as Chicago, Las Vegas, Nashville, New Orleans and San Diego for convention business. Each of those cities, he said, has a distinct downtown experience. Atlanta lacks such a distinction.
“We have an opportunity for a lot of people to come to Atlanta,” he said, “not through Atlanta.”
Legislative session coverage
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the largest team covering the Georgia Legislature. To see more of its legislative coverage, go to http://www.myajc.com/georgia-legislature/. To track particular bills and resolutions, check out the Georgia Legislative Navigator at http://legislativenavigator.myajc.com/. You can also follow the proceedings on Twitter at http://twitter.com/GAPoliticsNews or on Facebook at http://facebook.com/gapoliticsnewsnow.
Subscribe to our newsletter for more news about Georgia politics. Subscribe to politics news alerts in the AJC news app.