Cantrell: Roll the Dice or off to the Races? Don’t Bet on Either to Restore HOPE or Benefit Georgia

House Bill 677, a 127 page bill to legalize casino gambling in Georgia was introduced at the end of the 2015 legislative session. A similar bill, SB 264, to legalize pari-mutuel betting on horse racing, passed out of a Senate committee last week. What makes them similar? Both would lead to casino gambling and both are bad for our state. Georgians should oppose these bills for many reasons.

Here are some of those reasons:

  • Economic Impact: An Emory Law School study shows that each slot machine or electronic gambling machine costs the state economy one job per year. Casinos do bring in new jobs, but more jobs are lost than are actually gained. Additionally, non-gambling businesses shun areas with gambling facilities, according to a University of New Orleans study of their own city. Furthermore, spending on necessities is redirected into gambling. One study showed that people around gambling facilities spent 10 percent less on food, 25 percent less on clothing and 37 percent had raided their bank accounts in order to gamble. The socio-economic costs of legalized gambling are firmly established at well-over $3 in costs for every $1 in new revenue to the government.  Horse racing and casinos will cannibalize the local economy! Georgia has worked hard to become a great state to live and do business in – why throw that away?
  • Crony Capitalism: Proponents describe casinos and horse racing as “free market,” but in fact, they are the picture of crony capitalism. House Bill 677 allows for up to six casinos (no competition) around the state in specific zones (very political). The Senate bill allows up to three track permits. They would be highly regulated (larger government) and eventually be subsidized by the state (special tax breaks for special interests).  Gambling interests have already hired more than 20 lobbyists to wine and dine legislators into supporting these bills.
  • Increased Crime: While crime directly around gambling facilities may actually decrease due to the increased level of security the facilities employ, research from Harvard University shows that crime increases 10 percent every year in the community around a casino. Do we really want more crime in our state?
  • Bankrupting Businesses: Personal and business bankruptcies rates rise 28 to 42 percent within 30 miles of casinos. When someone gambles away their savings, and 37 percent of gamblers do raid their savings, it leaves them vulnerable when the next crisis hits. When bankruptcy occurs, every Georgian pays – directly, by not getting paid for goods or services already provided, or indirectly in higher prices.
  • Intentional Addiction: MIT Professor Natasha Schull reported in her 2012 book, Addiction By Design, that people who follow responsible gambling guidelines make up 75 percent of the players, but contribute a mere four percent of gambling profits. That means 25 percent of gamblers provide 96 percent of the profits! Casinos feed addiction because they can’t survive without it. The addicts are often those who can least afford it – and it affects more than the gamblers themselves. It especially affects children whose parents or guardians get caught up in this addiction.

Don’t fall for the three big deceptions you will hear about this issue!

The first is that this is the only way to fix the ailing HOPE Scholarship fund. However, casinos and pari-mutuel betting will actually cannibalize the lottery. New gambling will hurt HOPE, not help it! The Georgia Lottery Corporation (GLC) paid 24.8 percent, the lowest percentage in the history of our lottery, of revenue to HOPE last year. The bill which created the lottery requires GLC to pay “as nearly as is practical at least 35 percent” of revenues to education. Had the GLC contributed 35 percent to education, it would mean that over $398 million additional dollars would have gone to education last year, well above the purported approximately $300 million that gambling enthusiasts project these new gambling bills will provide.

Secondly, many will say that this is an issue the people should decide through a state-wide referendum. Normally, this is not a bad argument. However, in this case we are not dealing with a level playing field. The gambling industry will spend millions of dollars to convince Georgians that horse racing and casinos will usher in an economic utopia. They’ve already hired an army of highly paid lobbyists to convince legislators. The opposition has little money to spend on lobbyists, commercials and mailers.

Lastly, you may hear that horse racing is a more family friendly environment, or a separate issue from casinos. But horse racing operations in established markets are not viable businesses, unless they house a casino also – thus the nickname, “racino.” They bring in the same problems. Horse racing and casinos go hand in hand.

Governor Deal recently said he will not support casino gambling. Let him know you appreciate it. Then reach out to your state senator and representative and ask them to oppose both casinos and “racinos” (horse racing). They are already hearing from the gambling lobbyists. Let’s keep Georgia a great place to live and do business.

About the author

Wes Cantrell

Georgia state Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock, represents the citizens of District 22, which includes portions of Cherokee, Forsyth, and Fulton counties. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 2014 and currently serves on the Education, Juvenile Justice, and Small Business Development committees.