Supreme Court Puts Casinos Back In Play

This week’s Courier Herald column:

A couple of weeks ago, while the Georgia political world was mostly focused on political primaries, a United States Supreme Court ruling revived the somewhat dormant debate about casino gaming in Georgia. In a 6-3 decision, the court struck down a federal law that had prohibited most states from authorizing betting on sporting events.

The proliferation of gaming opportunities in other states continues, with new destination casino resorts such as that recently opened at Maryland’s National Harbor., as well as online. DraftKings, the fantasy sports gaming website, has already announced it will enter the sports wagering market.

Whether Georgia choses to legalize sports betting or not, it’s clear that technology and transportation will make it easier than ever for Georgians to legally bet on sporting events. There’s a lot of money at stake, literally. The illegal sports betting market is estimated at $150 Billion annually in the USA. That’s on top of the estimated $570 Million to $670 Million that Georgians take to other states to legally wager at other states’ casinos.

The offer to bring casino gaming to Georgia isn’t new. It just didn’t fit into Governor Nathan Deal’s plans. Which brings us back to November’s elections.

There will be a new Governor this November, and there’s also new fiscal pressures that will greet the new Governor. This year the Georgia legislature passed a bill cutting Georgia’s income tax over the next two years. This cut, however, is conditional, on the state maintaining certain financial triggers.

The state has managed to fully fund QBE and meet other obligations over the past few years by putting the state’s revenue growth toward essential priorities. Any surpluses have been going into the state’s rainy day fund. The tax cuts, at a minimum, will likely stop additions to the state’s savings account.

Any downturn in economic activity, or any additional major priority that needs funding would put a strain on the state’s ability to maintain the income tax cut. Having a new source of revenue that wouldn’t require raising taxes could be considered beneficial to the next Governor – no matter which party they come from.

And this is where a renewed pitch for casino gaming will likely begin. A destination resort casino in or near Atlanta would create about 10,000 permanent jobs and generate about $400 Million in new revenues to the state. This would be without any direct or indirect economic development incentives.

The question is no longer about legalizing gambling. Aside from the fact that this question was answered in Georgia when voters ratified the Lottery and HOPE scholarships, sports betting and the internet will further render the question moot.

In short, Georgia already has games of chance. Georgians are already betting significant sums at casinos. And with legalized sports betting, the general interest in gaming will likely generate a legitimate fear of missing out among both residents and lawmakers alike.

It’s likely to be a question for candidates, but it is one that ultimately must be settled by the voters. Legalizing gaming must ultimately be approved by constitutional amendment.

We can continue to pretend that Georgians aren’t currently participating in these games of chance, or we can take advantage of the situation we already have, and can have. We can continue to let the money go out of state, or we can have over $2 Billion in capital investment, employ 10,000 Georgians in jobs with high wages, and generate several hundred million dollars in new tax revenues.

In short, if we do nothing Georgians will continue to gamble. If we choose to take this opportunity, we can direct what Georgians are already doing to employ other Georgians, and fill Georgia’s coffers.

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