Thorougbreds break out of the starting gate at the beginning of the 151st running of the Belmont Stakes horse race, Saturday, June 8, 2019, in Elmont, N.Y. Sir Winston won the race. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Photo: Seth Wenig/AP
Photo: Seth Wenig/AP

Horse racing proposal stalls in Georgia Senate panel

Hours after Georgia Senate leaders said it was unlikely gambling legislation would clear the chamber this year, a panel declined to vote on horse racing proposals that easily cleared the same committee last session.

“The Senate has not shown an appetite to pass any gambling legislation,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, told reporters two hours before a committee heard the proposal.

Still, state Sen. Brandon Beach, an Alpharetta Republican, said he will continue to push his colleagues to approve a measure that would allow voters to decide if Georgia should allow gambling on horse racing.

“This is a very fluid session,” he said. “Just because it isn’t a priority now doesn’t mean it won’t be a priority later.”

Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee Chairman Frank Ginn said he postponed a vote on Beach’s bill to allow his colleagues more time to consider the legislation. The bill passed the committee 5-2 last year.

Beach said he envisions a racetrack with a mix of uses similar to the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park that would be a boon for the economy in Middle and South Georgia.

Beach proposed legislation in two parts.

Senate Resolution 84 would put a question on an upcoming ballot asking Georgia voters whether betting on horse racing should be legal. Senate Bill 45 would create a Georgia Horse Racing Commission that would be tasked with approving licenses and regulating the facilities.

“This legislation creates jobs in the horse industry and would attract international events to our state,” he said. 

Many conservative organizations and religious groups oppose expanding any form of gambling because they find it immoral and an addictive habit that breeds crime.

“Our concern is that the detriment far outweighs the benefit of this kind of legislation,” said Mike Griffin, a lobbyist with the Georgia Baptist Convention.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate spent several months last year studying if and how the state would expand gambling past the Georgia Lottery. Supporters say allowing horse racing, casinos or sports wagering could bring hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenue and thousands of jobs to the state.

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