Georgia Senate committee not champing at the bit for race track

    Georgia lawmakers studied a potential expansion of legalized gambling during the fall, including pitches for horse racing, casinos and online sports betting. Wednesday a key state Senate committee indicated any action on horse racing this year is a long shot. Pixabay.

    Supporters of horse racing and wagering in Georgia for decades have pressed the state Legislature to legalize parimutuel betting and open the gate to horse tracks.

    Lawmakers from both the state’s legislative chambers pondered the possibilities of expanding legalized gambling during study committee hearings last fall. But now that the 2020 General Assembly is officially underway, a key state Senate committee is not ready to act on the latest iteration of horse racing legislation.

    State Senator Brandon Beach pitched his legislation to the state Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee on Wednesday.

    “It’s about creating an equine industry and growing jobs, in all of Georgia,” said the Alpharetta Republican.

    The legislation would allow what he called a “boutique, first-class track” along the lines of Keeneland, a racecourse, auction house and tourist attraction in Kentucky. The two-part legislation doesn’t allow off-track betting or casino games via Senate Resolution 84 and Senate Bill 45. The resolution paves the way for voters to decide whether to legalize horse racing at the ballot box and the legislation that would follow creates a racing commission and sets up other parameters.

    Beach said the horse racing industry’s initial investment could amount to $550 million and he expects the resulting expansion of Georgia’s equine industry to create thousands of jobs, not just at the track but all the way from hay fields to horse barns.

    Representatives of faith-based groups and others spoke against the bill during about an hour of public testimony. Some argued that horse racing is the first step on a slippery slope toward casino gambling. Others brought up the unhealthy state of the horse racing industry.

    And a top Republican has his own doubts about gambling and the state budget windfall that horse racing’s supporters tout.

    The state of Kentucky subsidizes horse racing, Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan said before the committee hearing. And other legalized gambling facilities are no sure thing, he said.

    “I know that where casinos have done well, in Reno or Vegas. I’ve also seen them not do as well in Atlantic City, and other places,” said the Carrollton Republican.

    “Everybody just assumes that it’s a revenue stream. I’m not sure that it is.”

    The chances the Senate will move forward with a bill to legalize horse racing or other forms of gambling legislation is probably about the same longshot as ever, Dugan said.

    “The Senate has not shown an appetite in the past for gambling legislation,” Dugan said.

    The senate committee adjourned without taking a vote. Chairman Frank Ginn, a Danielsville Republican, said he would work with Beach on the bill, but did not specify a date for another hearing.

    Maggie Lee
    Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008. Her written work and data journalism has appeared in online and print outlets including The (Macon) Telegraph, Creative Loafing and SaportaReport.com.