(The Center Square) – A measure that would allow state residents to decide whether to legalize pari-mutuel horse race betting in Georgia cleared its first hurdle Wednesday in the Georgia Senate.
Pari-mutuel betting allows participants to place bets against each other with taxes on the bets going to the state. Senate Resolution 53 would create a voter referendum allowing Georgia voters to decide whether the state should authorize horse race wagering at racetracks “by or on behalf of the state.”
The measure was approved by the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries & Utilities on Wednesday.
Backers of the bill said the horsing industry is a more than $1 billion industry that would create jobs and boost the state’s economy. Similar bills have been pushed in Georgia over the past three years.
“We believe we’re going to create a new industry, the equine industry, that will bring $1.2 million of economic impact to the state of Georgia, and it will particularly help rural Georgia with horse farms, hay farms, and so on,” Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, said.
The legislative panel must review legislation that would determine the tax rate. Current proposals call for a 0.50% tax rate on the bets, while licensed equestrian facilities would give 20% of their monthly net proceeds from betting devices to the state in taxes. Beach said the state could earn $750 million from the device revenue alone.
The facilities also would pay a $500,000 nonrefundable application fee and a $250,000 renewal fee each year. Beach believes the state could get an additional $100 billion if they approve a Breeders’ Cup race, which he said is a weeklong event similar to the Super Bowl in football. Beach also pointed out the industry will be expanded with a racetrack funded with private investments.
The voter referendum would ask voters to authorize the state to set aside 75% of the revenue for education and 25% for rural health care services and health insurance coverage.
Critics of the legislation said gambling could increase suicide, poverty and crime rates.
Michael Griffin of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board said pari-mutuel betting is a segue to other forms of gambling in the state such as slot machines and casinos.
“We’re gonna call it horses for hope one year. If we’re not careful, it’s going to be money for marijuana, and God forbid one day pennies for prostitutes,” Griffin said. “Because we began to use money at the end as a justification for what we’re doing if it raises tax revenue. … What you’re doing is nowhere near what I just said in the final resolution possibly could happen, but I’m just saying things have to begin somewhere, and I’m concerned about being able to maintain this.”