Ralston says Georgians should be trusted with gambling expansion

    House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, told reporters Thursday that if Georgia is to expand legal gambling, voters should make the decision at the ballot box. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

    House Speaker David Ralston said Georgians should decide if casinos, sports betting and horse racing become legal.

    Ralston sat down with reporters Thursday ahead of next week’s start to the 2020 legislative session. He said he’ll have a better sense of how much support gambling legislation has after lawmakers return to the Gold Dome Monday.

    The Blue Ridge Republican plans to meet soon with the 15-member special committee he appointed last year to study the economic benefits of expanding legalized gambling beyond the lottery.

    Lawmakers are considering a number of ways to generate more revenue as state tax collections turned unstable most of the last year.

    Georgia’s legislators have long debated the pros and cons of various forms of gambling with legislation stalling. The last several months state lawmakers toured the state to gauge public sentiment and explore interest in different forms of gaming ahead of the new session. Legalized horse racing or casinos will require a constitutional amendment that would need two-thirds support from the Legislature and the backing of voters. Some lawmakers believe the state can legalize online sports betting without a public vote.

    “What we’re talking about at the end of the day is do we trust Georgians enough to let them make the decision as we have to under our law,” Ralston said. “We’ve talked about this issue for years and one of these days we’re going to have to say we’re going to quit talking and vote on it and however it comes out is the way it comes out.”

    Ralston’s special committee spent Thursday touring the Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race track’s owners are pushing a plan to expand into a casino resort and entertainment complex.

    Rep. Brett Harrell, a member of the House study committee, said if casinos become legal, local officials and their residents would get a chance to sign off on a local project before one can come to their community.

    “I think that makes sure everyone in every corner of the state has their say so it’s not getting dominated by a heavy population center,” said the Snellville Republican.

    Ralston said some senators are making a strong push to get gambling legislation passed this year.

    “I found out there are three sure things in life: death, taxes and commitment by our friends across the hall that they’re going to move a bill out on gaming this session and that horse is still at the gate,” Ralston said.

    Stanley Dunlap
    Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.