By T. D. Thornton
The latest bill in a decades-long string of legislative efforts to legalize pari-mutuel horse wagering in Georgia was filed on Wednesday.
In a change of tactics from similar bills that failed in recent years, this year’s version does not tie the sport to any racino/casino gaming and focuses strictly on creating a mixed-use Thoroughbred venue that would host boutique seasonal meets and other non-racing events.
According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, which first broke the story, the Rural Georgia Jobs and Growth Act filed by Republican Senator Brandon Beach pitches horse racing as “an economic development boon for struggling rural communities, which could see the creation of a new industry surrounding the raising of racehorses.”
“Each racehorse can have a ripple effect of creating more than 20 jobs,” Beach told the ABC. “This legislation provides my colleagues with a clear vision of the benefits of horse racing facilities, including new revenue streams to keep up with increasing demand for education funding.”
Beach told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this week that, “We need to be in the equine industry. There’s more to it than racing. There’s horse farms and hay farms and breeding and auctions.”
The stumbling block to getting parimutuel laws enacted in Georgia–as it has been for the past 30 years–has nothing to do with a lack of enthusiasm for horses. The difficulty has always been rounding up enough elected officials who are willing to support expanded gambling in a state where moral objections to it run high and religious conservatism carries considerable clout.
Dean Reeves, president of the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition, told the ABC that his group is committed to building “world-class facilities that would benefit the state and serve as an asset to local communities. Our industry wants to be a part of a solution that gives rural Georgia an economic boost while also providing new revenues for the entire state,” he said.
The ABC reported that legalizing parimutuel betting in Georgia requires a constitutional amendment that would be subject to a statewide referendum.