The ‘plug was pulled’ on Georgia’s revived casino bill

State Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah/Georgia Public Broadcasting

State Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah/Georgia Public Broadcasting

A late push to revive a measure that would legalize gambling in Georgia hit a brick wall Friday after sponsors failed to gain enough traction to get it past a committee vote.

State Rep. Ron Stephens scuttled plans to present his casino measure, House Bill 158, after a compromise plan fell apart. House Speaker David Ralston strongly suggested the measure won’t reach a vote this year.

“We’re going to take a deep breath and come back and look at it some over the interim,” he said, adding: “We want to keep the discussion going but we thought today was probably not the appropriate time to do that.”

Pressed on whether that meant the measure was scuttled until 2018, he said: “I think that’s going to be tough. I wouldn’t bet on it. That’s been my line.”



State Rep. Calvin Smyre, a Columbus Democrat working behind the scenes to hash out a deal, was unequivocal.

“The plug was pulled. We just couldn’t come to grips with it,” said Smyre, who said his attention was on a 2018 fight for the measure. “I was hoping to come to some kind of agreement today, but we fell short.”

The surprise attempt to revive the bill came after the other chief sponsor of the measure, state Sen. Brandon Beach, said he will no longer push for his measure this year because he didn’t have the votes to get Senate Bill 79 out of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee.

“I am not discouraged,” Beach told our AJC colleague Aaron Gould Sheinin. “I will double down and plan to crisscross the state starting in April” to build support for the bill in 2018.

The committee hearing was initially set for Crossover Day, the last day legislation can pass from one chamber to another and still have a clear path to become law this year. Early in the day, Stephens was confident he could wrangle up enough votes to get it approved.

“I want us to have a vote,” said Stephens. “Either you’re for this or you’re against it. You can’t be for HOPE scholarships and opposed to gambling. They are inextricably linked.”

He’s referring to the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship, which pays the in-state college tuition for students who maintain a 3.0 grade point average. The lottery also funds pre-K programs.

It triggered a flood of opposition from religious conservatives and other critics of the measure, which would allow two “destination resort” casinos with proceeds from a 20 percent tax going to a host of interests, from HOPE scholarships, to needs-based college grants, rural trauma care and rural hospitals, to broadband Internet infrastructure to law enforcement raises.

Opponents quickly scheduled a 1press conference to urge lawmakers to oppose the gambling legislation, as many legislative supporters and some of the 40 or so lobbyists representing the gambling industry scurried around the statehouse trying to whip votes.

State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, called the last-minute hearing a “gross abuse” of the legislative process.

“We will continue to fight this no matter what happens,” he told our AJC colleague Michelle Baruchman. “But the people of Georgia deserve a better process than what they are being given by House leadership today.”

Reader Comments 0


Please take a look at what casinos have done to the communities, such as Charleston, WV and Biloxi, MS, in which they are located.  They are depressed areas that have not gained anything from the casinos.  As with any corporation, it's the owners who make the money.  Drugs, prostitution, mob, even litter takes over the areas surrounding the casinos that promised to "improve the area" through increased revenue.  The casino workers are paid minimum wages and some of them are also in the food stamp program.  Be careful what you wish for.


This is ridiculous.  One can certainly be opposed to casinos for economic reasons, but you can't be opposed to casinos for Christian reasons.  

#1. Where in the bible exactly does it say that gambling is a sin? 

#2. If gambling is a sin, then no one opposing this should own stocks, purchase investment properties, or anything of the sort, as these actions fall within the gambling arena.  You're putting up your money with the hopes of making more money, that is gambling. The only difference is risk and that differs based on the gambler AND the investment instrument.  To oppose the measure and still do these things would make you hypocrite.

We have to govern better than this.  I can accept denying the measure because they've done a thorough analysis and it doesn't benefit us economically, but I can't accept denying the measure because of some loosely worded verse in the bible, when we are supposed to have a secular government anyway. 


Go Ron go!  Let's get this thing done, put it up for a popular vote, and let the people decide. 

Yes, gambling is addictive for some people.  So is alcohol. So is tobacco.  The doesn't mean we prohibit consenting adults from drinking or smoking.

Some religious ninny put forth the opinion that gambling facilitates human trafficking.  BS.  I assume she was referring to prostitution - tourism and the convention trade also supply customers for prostitutes - we going to stamp out the convention trade as well?


The provision for making sure construction is done by GA company is too weak.  It simply says GA company will be considered first.