Lobbying quickens to legalize horse-race betting

By Walter C. Jones
Morris News Service
Published Monday, January 11, 2010

ATLANTA – The various groups working for legalized horse-race betting began sharing notes Sunday on the eve of today's (Monday) start of the 2010 legislative session.

They're hopeful that the timing is ripe for their success since the state is facing a deficit in tax revenues around $2 billion less than what it drew in its peak, two years ago. Four race tracks could make up the difference if they generate as much in taxes as Indiana has since it began operation of legalized horse-race betting in 2007, according to Arthur Anderson, a lobbyist with the Georgia Horse Racing Committee.

"We see it as a win-win-win," he told allies during a meeting Sunday. "The money trickles down all the way to the little guy and up to the big guy, and the taxes just come in."

Anderson is overseeing a grassroots campaign to tie the taxes from race tracks to education.

"Educators think it's wonderful," said Lisa Amey, a real estate agent in Newnan representing a group of investors who have raised $20 million for the construction of a track and training facility south of Atlanta to be called Georgia Downs.

Amey said the track and adjoining hotel would create 600 jobs, not counting suppliers. Anderson said the state could also support tracks in Augusta, Savannah and possibly Valdosta or Hawkinsville.

While the Georgia group, based in Augusta, has focused on rallies, T-shirts and distributing marketing brochures for a prototype track in Augusta, others have concentrated on legislators. A half-day hearing in Atlanta in November featured national experts explaining the details of gambling and race-track economics to lawmakers.

Educating legislators about the complexities of pari-mutuel gaming and off-site betting will be the first hurdle, according to Maria Strollo Zack, a veteran lobbyist hired by a different group of horse breeders and horse owners called Profit Georgia LLC.

She predicted legislation would be ready for introduction in two weeks when the General Assembly returns from its one-week recess of budget hearings. It will probably be introduced, she said, by Rep. Harry Geisinger, R-Roswell, who chaired the November hearing.

At the same time, other lobbyists are pushing wider legalization of gambling to allow construction of a casino in Underground Atlanta, the site of Sunday's strategy session held by the horse enthusiasts. While a constitutional amendment would have to pass the legislature and win on the November ballot for either type of gambling to become a reality, Anderson said horse racing stands a better chance.

"We think that our position is going to be the most palatable to the people," he said.

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