Georgia House committee hears testimony on casinos, gaming

After years of advocating for casinos in Georgia, one state lawmaker believes the issue should finally make its way onto the ballot next November.

"It's time.  It's time that the people get the opportunity to vote yes or vote no," explained State. Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah.

Stephens is one of the co-chairs of the House of Representatives' Special Committee on Economic Growth.  The group scheduled three full days of hearings this week to hear testimony from casino executives, sports betting operators and other stakeholders.

In order to allow casinos or other gaming ventures into the state, lawmakers would have to approve a statewide referendum and voters would then need to approve a Constitutional Amendment.  

"The question really is for most of us since we've got needs in healthcare and education is to see if there's other opportunities we can look at," said Rep. Stephens.

Opponents, however, fear the state may put profits before people. Mike Griffin with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board told the committee he is concerned about the effects increased gambling could have on families and particularly children.

"All that glitters is not gold," said Griffin.  "Why do they have to have so much law enforcement?  Because this is absolutely one of the most dangerous industries that you can have in your state."  

Stephens argues that the state already has gambling through the Georgia Lottery, which has provided $21 billion to education since its inception.  He does not think the state should promote one form of gaming over another and would like for the ballot question to be an all or nothing proposition.  

 "Either we're gonna play or we're gonna get out of the it and the voters will decide that," said Stephens.