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Georgia Senate panel delays approving gambling recommendations

State Sen. Brandon Beach speaks during a meeting at the Georgia Capitol. (Photo by Phil Skinner)
State Sen. Brandon Beach speaks during a meeting at the Georgia Capitol. (Photo by Phil Skinner)

A Georgia Senate panel studying whether to expand gambling decided Wednesday to put off making recommendations to the chamber.

State Sen. Brandon Beach, an Alpharetta Republican who served as chairman for the study committee, said he wanted to delay approving recommendations to allow casinos, horse racing or sports betting in the state until all panel members could reach an agreement.

“We just weren’t ready to vote,” Beach said. “So I decided to hold off. We’ve got time. We’re going to talk about it in the next (Senate Republican) caucus meeting we have — it’ll be a priority.”

State Sen. Bill Cowsert, an Athens Republican who has opposed casinos in the past, said he was keeping an open mind this year.

“It is quite complicated with a lot of different pros and cons,” he said.

Beach said the panel failed to reach a consensus on how best to pose the question of expanded gambling to Georgia voters.

Senators spent the past few months hearing from the gambling industry, as well as those opposed to the idea.

Beach said he would like the Legislature to approve putting a constitutional amendment to Georgia voters that would allow all three forms of gambling to be considered. He said some committee members want voters to consider each form of gambling separately.

Adding horse racing or casino gambling in the state would require Georgians to approve a constitutional amendment allowing the expansion. And the Legislature’s lawyers have encouraged lawmakers to pursue a constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting if they want that.

Getting a constitutional amendment through the General Assembly is a heavy lift. Two-thirds of each chamber would have to approve sending an amendment to voters.

A House panel also is considering various gambling measures.

Gambling bills have struggled to gain traction in recent years in the Georgia Legislature, but a request from Gov. Brian Kemp to cut state spending has renewed interest in finding new ways for the state to increase revenue. Supporters say expanded gambling would bring thousands of jobs and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the Georgia Lottery-funded HOPE scholarship.

Beach said he expects the committee to reach a consensus by the time the legislative session begins Jan. 13.