Horse-betting advocates now plan to woo voters

By Walter C. Jones | Morris News Service | Story updated at 9:48 PM on Monday, February 5, 2007

ATLANTA - Advocates for legalized betting on horse races in Georgia are planning to mount a multimedia campaign to build public support.

Organizers say the publicity is a departure from past years when they tried to draw less attention to their efforts.
Arthur H. Anderson, a developer and fundraising consultant, said he hoped the change of strategy would create a groundswell that legislators couldn't ignore.

"In the past, we've tried to work it from the inside," he said. "Now, we want to work it from the inside and outside."
Legislation to legalize horse wagering has been introduced in past years with support from both Republicans and Democrats, but it has never made any real progress. The organizers, members of the Georgia Horse Racing Committee, haven't nailed down sponsors for this year's version.

However, some of the past co-sponsors now have risen to positions of leadership where they could give the measure a powerful push, including state Reps. Tom McCall, R-Elberton, chairman of the House Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee, and Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, chairman of the House Economic Development & Tourism Committee. Anderson figures the number of out-of-staters who have moved into Georgia's urban areas means there could be a majority of voters now open to the idea of legalized gambling on horse races.

The organizers are looking to raise $500,000 to fund ads on billboards, cable television and e-mail. The main thrust would be along the coast and metro Atlanta, areas where tourism is a big business and where Anderson estimates there are fewer conservatives who would object to gambling on moral grounds.

Part of the strategy is to dedicate a portion of the state's proceeds from wagering to education, a formula that has worked in other states and especially in the case of the successful Georgia Lottery. Billy Wright, a Cartersville horse breeder, said supporters of agriculture and tourism would be natural allies in the campaign.

"It would create a lot of jobs," Wright said. "It's not just a gambling thing like some people perceive."Larry Taylor, a lobbyist with the Horse Industry Committee of Georgia, said the campaign could give lawmakers the courage to take a position once they see the measure's popularity.

Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on 020607



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