Horse race betting debate heats up at Capitol

by: Diana Davis Updated:

Up to now, the idea has always failed. Now supporters and opponents say next year may be different.

ATLANTA - Could betting on horse racing be coming to Georgia??

The idea has repeatedly failed, but supporters and opponents say next year may be different.

Channel 2's Diana Davis found out why at a Tuesday afternoon hearing at the state Capitol.

All but a handful of states allow betting on horse racing, called pari-mutuel betting. Supporters said legalizing it in Georgia would bring in big bucks for struggling state budgets, according to Hal Berry of the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition.

"It's dollars that happen at the track. It's dollars that happen to tourism if you include hotels and restaurants. It's sales tax dollars, it's employment tax dollars. And the numbers are big, big, big, big," Berry said.

Supporters at Tuesday's state Senate committee hearing said a recent Georgia State University study found pari-mutuel betting could bring in as much as $50 million  –  money that might go to the cash-strapped, state-supported HOPE scholarship program.

Douglas Dillard supports pari-mutuel betting in Georgia.

"As we come out of this recession, these are the kinds of things that will help bring Atlanta or Georgia back to the forefront," said Dillard, a member of the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition.

Erich Cochling, of the Georgia Family Council, the only opponent at the hearing, said the racing business is on the decline. He said those states that have it have had to add in casino-type gambling at race tracks to turn a profit. He predicts the same for Georgia and sees it as a dangerous slippery slope.

"This is just opening up the state to a new form of gambling that will lead to worse outcomes," Cochling said.

Gov. Nathan Deal has repeatedly said he would not support any expansion of gambling over the lottery. Supporters said voters should decide.

The legislature would need a two-thirds vote to put the measure on the ballot. Though it's failed before, supporters and opponents said this year might be different.

When asked about the outcome of the proposal, Cochling said:

"I think by the turnout today, we can see there is a strong lobby for this."

If legislators approve the idea, the decision wouldn't go on the ballot for voters until Nov. 2014.