January 30, 2015 Radio Commentary

Horse-Racing: Where the Money Goes

Radio Commentary, 90.7, 91.7 New Life FM, January 30, 2015 – By Sue Ella Deadwyler

Over the years bill after bill has been introduced to legalize horse racing and pari-mutuel betting in Georgia. Thankfully, none of them passed. But here we go again! On November 17th, Representative Harry Geisinger pre-filed H.R. 1 for consideration in the 2015 legislative session. It would add horse-racing and pari-mutuel betting to the lottery section of the State Constitution and nullify current constitutional language that prevents pari-mutuel betting and casino gambling in Georgia.

If H.R. 1 were to pass, legislation would be needed to regulate the races and race tracks, the horses, satellite feeds, the veterinarians, and whatever staff deemed necessary to create and maintain another gambling industry in Georgia. That’s where H.B. 2 comes in. On November 17th, the same day he pre-filed H.R. 1, Representative Geisinger introduced H.B. 2 as a regulatory bill for H.R. 1. Those regulations would provide oversight, administration, funding and distribution of whatever proceeds are left after gamblers collect their winnings and over-head expenses are paid.

If H.R. 1 passes the General Assembly, voters would be asked on the next General Election ballot whether they want a licensed racetrack and pari-mutuel betting in their county or municipality. In locations where a majority of voters say, “Not in my back yard (NIMBY),” proponents of horse-racing and pari-mutuel betting could depart and look for greener pastures (no pun intended). So, ultimately, voters could decide whether horse tracks and gambling descend upon their community. However, the same ballot question mentions that a percentage of the proceeds would be used for higher education, voluntary pre-kindergarten programs and funding of certain medical services.

A quick read of the 38-page H.B. 2 reveals on pages 25 through 29 where the money goes. Of course, gamblers must be paid their winnings, and much of it is divvied up among the Georgia Breeders Funds, the Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, the Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. So, the funding for “higher education” mentioned in H.B. 2 is dedicated to education that “feeds” the horse-racing and pari-mutuel betting industry.

Ten percent of the remaining money goes to the State as a license tax and 2 percent is promised to the county or municipality where a racetrack and ancillary facilities are located. Way down the list you’ll learn that 5 percent of what’s left would be dedicated to the voluntary pre-kindergarten programs through the Lottery for Education Account.

Since H.B. 2 could be an enabler for gambling addicts and a bottomless pit to consume family resources, a portion of the proceeds is dedicated to a Racing Benevolence Fund to provide counseling and related assistance to gambling addicts. Hopefully, the families of addicts won’t crumble, in the meantime. When these bills go to committee, I’ll tell you which legislators to contact. For Georgia Insight I’m Sue Ella Deadwyler, your Capitol correspondent.