State of Georgia Could be Getting Two Casinos

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ATLANTA (Associated Press) - Supporters of casino gambling hope to legalize the industry in Georgia after several failed attempts in recent legislative sessions.

Backers argue that casino gambling is the solution to high demand for Georgia’s merit-based college scholarship program, known as HOPE. Georgia’s lottery has struggled to keep up with demand for those awards, which are used to cover expenses to attend the state’s public colleges.

Legislators plan to introduce two identical bills. Rep. Ron Stephens, a Savannah Republican, is sponsoring the House version, which would allow two “resort destinations” that could offer casino gambling.

Stephens says the state would tax 20 percent of gambling revenue, funneling it through a new commission overseeing gambling to the state Lottery. He said 30 percent of that pool will create a new needs-based college scholarship and the rest would be used for the HOPE scholarship, other college grants and the state’s pre-kindergarten program.

The bills are expected to be introduced in both the House and Senate this week, but their specific wording wasn’t immediately available. Supporters plan to later introduce a constitutional amendment, eliminating a prohibition on casinos.

Influential faith-based groups are among the chief opponents of any gambling expansion and some top lawmakers haven’t embraced casino supporters’ past efforts. Undaunted, various gambling companies have again hired dozens of lobbyists in Georgia this year.

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