Casinos proposed to balance government budgets

With declining tax revenues causing state and local governments to lay off employees and trim services to stay within budget, the time may finally be right to legalize casino gambling in Georgia, according to state Rep. Roger Bruce, an Atlanta Democrat.

Bruce said he will introduce a bill during the 2009 legislative session that would let counties, cities and towns in Georgia to individually decide through voter referendums if they want casino gambling in their jurisdictions. Bruce admitted that previous casino bills have never made it out of committee, where majority Republicans get squeamish even talking about pari-mutuel betting on horse races, but that statewide financial problems faced by local governments likely outweigh any negative concerns and gambling.

Almost immediately House Speaker Pro-Tem Mark Burkhalter, a Johns Creek Republican, said that a statewide referendum to amend the state constitution is the only way casinos can be legalized. But he added that for concerns that casinos would lead to more gambling addictions, prostitution and organized crime, he wouldn’t push even a statewide referendum on casinos.

Bruce, however, countered that casinos would be great for the state economy. He cited a study by PFK Consulting for the Atlanta City Council that found a casino in Atlanta would create nearly 11,000 jobs and add $135 million to tax coffers annually. That would certainly dent the $2 billion deficit the state has recently run up, he said.