The State of Georgia is facing a budget shortfall for fiscal 2009 of over $2 Billion. And states do not have the luxury of running deficit spending, and printing up paper money to cover the shortfall. State budgets must be balanced each year. So, Georgia needs to give serious consideration to a new revenue stream.
State Rep. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta) has announced his intention to introduce a bill in the 2009 legislative session to allow voters to decide if they want gaming in Georgia. His bill would allow voters of each Georgia county to decide whether or not they wanted gaming in their county. The Georgia Assembly and recent governors have been cool to the idea of casinos in Georgia. But the legislature has never allowed any gaming proposal to be voted on in a general referendum or any other popular vote.
The big question is: Should gambling be made legal in the state of Georgia?
Answer Number One: In a free society, individuals are free to use their income and assets whichever way they choose. There should be no moral, ethical, or even Biblical sanction against gambling. Some people believe that gambling is a sin, but a sin should not be made illegal when it does not initiate force or fraud against another individual. Said another way, if I use my money to gamble with, it’s my business.
Answer Number Two: The State legislators have already settled any moral trepidations they may have ever had over gambling. It is already legal here in Georgia in one form. Fifteen years ago, lottery gambling became legal in Georgia, and to date, has generated over $15 Billion in tax revenue. Sales for fiscal year 2008 climbed to a record-breaking $3.5 billion, exceeding the revenue generated during fiscal year 2007. So, the State of Georgia has already been in the gaming business for over 15 years. Casino gambling is simply another form of gambling. However, with casino gambling, the state will not have the monopoly, but private enterprise will own and operate the casinos.
With a 15-year history of successful gaming under its belt, it is going to be pretty hard for the Georgia General Assembly to refuse casino gambling without exhibiting massive hypocrisy. But massive hypocrisy has not stopped them in the past.
But, what about other states where gaming is legal? What has their experience been?
To find out, I went to the website of the American Gaming Association in Washington, DC.
In Nevada, the granddaddy of them all, where gaming began in 1931, tax revenues from gaming have been a large part of the state budget. In 2006, Nevada gaming had 201,000 employees and tax revenues were $1.034 Billion. Nevada’s budget for 2009 is set at $6 Billion, so gaming revenue comprises about 17% of that state’s total income each year.
Mississippi legalized gaming in 1990, passed by legislation and local option vote. There are 30,500 gaming employees, and tax revenue for 2006 was $350.44 Million.
Louisiana legalized gambling in 1993, passed by legislation and local option vote. Tax revenue last year was $559 million, another $68 million from racetrack casinos, with 20,300 gaming employees.
Michigan legalized gambling in 1996 by statewide referendum, local option vote and legislation. Michigan has 3 casinos that generated 2006 tax revenue of $365 million.
So we see here that other states have long histories of success with casino gambling.
Casino gambling would be a welcome addition to the convention business in Atlanta and other Georgia cities. Las Vegas has been stealing away convention business for years now with their gaming and entertainment attractions. The Georgia hospitality and restaurant industries would also get an infusion of business as they support gaming tourism.
Atlanta has another competitive advantage as a gaming destination…Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, the busiest airport in the world. It’s been said that you can’t even get to heaven without connecting through Atlanta. Our presence as a Southern regional transportation hub makes Atlanta an easy gaming destination for the two thirds of the population of the US that lives east of the Mississippi River.
Casino gambling can be a valuable addition to the economy of Georgia. I hope that the Georgia General Assembly can find its courage and conscience and votes in favor of casino gambling in the 2009 Legislative Session.