Lawmaker wants to tie casino vote to Georgia Lottery

He has pushed for years to change state law to allow for casinos to come to Georgia, but his latest effort could spell the end of the state's lottery.

Rep. Ron Stephens, R -Savannah, said he plans to offer a floor substitute of his "destination resort" bill that would add the Georgia Lottery to the language of the ballot referendum that would authorize casino gambling in the state.

"The ballot question will be an all or none, either you're going to have the lottery as it is today and the potential for a destination resort, or none at all," Rep. Stephens explained.

Stephens said his bill is an effort to bolster the HOPE Scholarship, which was created with lottery funds, but has been pared down in recent years because of overwhelming popularity and dwindling resources.

Opponents of casino gambling, however, said the costs outweigh the benefits.

"We keep hearing all these excuses that it's for the children," said Mike Griffin with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.  "Well, let me tell you, when we legalize vices like casino gambling, it hurts the children."

Last week, a House committee approved a version of House Resolution 327 that did not include the lottery.  Stephens said he plans to offer the substitute sometime before Thursday's Crossover Day deadline. 

"If your argument is you're against gambling, I got your bill.  If you're for it, I've got your bill.  Let the folks decide," said Rep. Stephens.

Griffin, though, fears that putting the issue on the ballot will not be "a fair fight," because of all the money and resources casino interests will pour into the state.

"We're very concerned about putting this kind of issue before the voters," said Griffin.  "There will not be a level playing field."