This years bill to allow for “Destination Resort” casino gaming was introduced as a paired down, more focused alternative to last year’s proposal that would have allowed as many as seven licenses to be issued throughout the state. We covered the bill in detail here.
At the bill’s first Senate hearing, sponsor Brandon Beach of Alpharetta has allowed the county population threshold for the second casino license to be lowered from 250,000 to 200,000. Aaron G Sheinin of the AJC explains the change:
We’ve changed that from a 250,000 population to 200,000, so Columbus has a chance and Augusta has a chance,” he said, adding that he will present a new version of the bill to the committee Thursday.
Beach’s decision is a smart one, said state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, a top co-sponsor of House Bill 158, an identical House version of Beach’s bill.
“It’s more acceptable,” Smyre said of Beach’s revision. “We all know the main resort will be in the metro area, but economic development ought to spread throughout the state.”
There’s also a change in where the revenues would go. Instead of 70% of proceeds going to HOPE (with 30% going to a new, needs based scholarship fund), rural healthcare is in the mix. More from Sheinin:
Beach’s other tweak to the bill deals with how the proceeds would be spent. The revised version lowers the HOPE proceeds to 50 percent and would create a 20 percent pot to benefit rural health care.
Beach sees the casino proceeds as a way to inject new revenue into rural hospitals, which have been closing across Georgia in recent years.
The casino gaming effort continues to be an uphill battle, but legislators are working hard to strike the right balance between capturing the business currently being lost to other states, and providing the right balance of where Georgians want and don’t want casino gaming operations. The final discussion – where to designate the funds – is now somewhat fluid as well.
I’ll be taking a much bigger dive into all of those questions here next week.