Meetings will be scheduled to study the potential for sports betting, horse racing and casino gambling. A House gambling panel also plans to travel the state this fall studying the issue.
Adding horse racing or casino gambling in the state would require Georgians to approve a constitutional amendment allowing the expansion.
Georgia backers such as Beach say their proposals could create thousands of jobs and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the HOPE scholarship.
Some conservative groups and religious leaders oppose expanding any form of gambling because they say it is an immoral and addictive habit that breeds crime. Others have questioned the rosy revenue predictions offered by supporters, especially as more states expand gambling and compete for customers.
Mike Griffin, a lobbyist with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said he worried that expanding gambling would lead to the legalization of other “social vices.”
“It’s amazing how it always seems to come to ‘How else can we make money?’ ” Griffin said. “It’s almost as if one day it’ll be marijuana. And then, God forbid, one day it’ll be prostitution. Where’s the line?”
Supporters for years have tried different ways to expand gambling in Georgia, through casinos or horse racing, but a recent call from Gov. Brian Kemp to cut budgets has renewed energy around the topic.
Kemp has said that while he opposes casino gambling, he will not stand in the way of putting an amendment before voters as long as it guarantees the revenue will benefit HOPE.
State Sen. Ed Harbison, a Columbus Democrat, said lawmakers should seriously consider the potential benefits of expanding gambling in Georgia.
“We’re already gambling — the lottery is gambling,” he said. “We’ve just got to look at that for what it is. We have to look at it with an open mind and think about the possibility of the funds it can attract to the program that educates our children.”
Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at www.ajc.com/politics.