Georgia lawmaker bets on legalized horse racing

A perennial quest to let Georgia gamble on horse racing has hit the starting gates ahead of the next year’s General Assembly session.

State Rep. Harry Geisinger, R-Roswell, is trying again to legalize what’s officially known as pari-mutuel wagering by allowing local communities to put the matter to a vote. It’s part of an off-and-on campaign to legalize horse racing in Georgia, dating to the early 1990s.

Racing advocates, however, believe the time may be right once the Legislature convenes Jan. 12 — especially now that Gov. Nathan Deal has won what’s likely the last reelection bid of his political career. Deal in the past has said he would not support any effort to expand gambling in Georgia, but advocates feel he may not stand in their way given that he would be in his final term of office.

Geisinger’s House Resolution 1 would allow a public vote on amending the state constitution to allow parimutuel betting. It requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to pass. With it, legislators can vote to put the measure on the ballot without Deal’s signature.

A sister bill, House Bill 2, outlines how the process would work with state oversight. That includes the ability for local residents to petition to place the matter on their local ballot. Supporters have said legalized gambling would create jobs and bring in new revenue for state and local coffers as well as popular programs — such as the state’s HOPE college scholarship program — without raising taxes.

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