Advocates of legalizing pari-mutuel wagering in Georgia are teaming up with casino operators for this year's legislative push.
With an established horse population of 180,000 and active Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing in neighboring Florida, the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition has been pushing for several years to put a decision on pari-mutuel wagering in front of voters. During this year's legislative session, which started Jan. 9, the ask will be for the approval of up to five casinos and a racino.
In previous attempts, proponents of pari-mutuel wagering have stressed the ties between horse racing and agriculture. The assumption has been that the ancillary growth in breeding and training facilities would make a proposal to expand gambling beyond the state-run lottery more palatable to opponents. The effort has come close.
"It is our feeling now that horse racing on its own does not offer enough tax revenue to move the needle," said Steven Crayne, executive director of the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition. "State leaders need money to shore up the Hope scholarship and other areas of education. If they adopt resort-style gaming, then you have the revenue and there is something for everyone. There is an uptick across the state."
The lottery-funded Hope scholarship once covered 100% of tuition at public colleges and universities for students that qualified based on their academic achievement. That tuition support is down to 70%, except for the highest-achieving high school graduates, according to a report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
This year's legislative proposals include one that would put a constitutional amendment before voters in 2018 to legalize new forms of gambling in Georgia. If the constitutional amendment were approved, local governments would then have to get approvals from their constituents on the next ballot to allow the operation of a casino or racetrack. Once the local issue is settled, then a city or county could apply for one of six licenses.
A separate bill will outline the number of licenses available, where they can be located, and the minimum investments required, according to Crayne. In broad terms it includes the following:
Type of Licenses
- There is one primary license that must be located in the metropolitan Atlanta area, which is referred to Licensing Region One and must be within 30 miles of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It may offer an unlimited number of gaming positions.
- There are four secondary licenses. Secondary licenses are limited to one in each of Licensing Regions One, Two, Three or Four. The licensing regions are identified in the bill by groups of counties. Only one secondary license may be issued in Region One. A Secondary licensee may have unlimited gaming positions except for the secondary license located in Licensing Region One, which is limited to 2,000 gaming positions.
- The bill provides for one tertiary license, which may be located within any of the four licensing regions, and is required to offer pari-mutuel horse racing. This license is limited to 1,500 gaming positions.
Distances between License Locations
- Other than being located within Licensing Region One and the 30-mile proximity to the airport requirement, a primary license has no restrictions on distance between other license locations.
- No secondary license in Licensing Regions Two, Three or Four may be located within 25 miles of a primary or a tertiary License located in Licensing Region One. Additionally, no secondary license may be located within 50 miles of another secondary license or tertiary license.
- A tertiary license may not be located within 15 miles of the primary license.
Crayne said plans have not changed about locating the racetrack in the Atlanta area.
"What we have envisioned here will be world-class," he said. "Elevated walkways around the track, entertainment and residential areas, and an innovative use of the infield space. What we're proposing will be good for Georgia and for racing."