Pro-gambling legislators would be wise to forget about convincing Glynn County’s state delegation that Georgia is ready for legalized gambling.
It would be a losing bet.
State Sen. Sen. William Ligon and Reps. Alex Atwood and Jeff Jones, all St. Simons Island Republicans, are opposed to pari-mutuel betting and casinos.
State Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, might not stand in its way as long state government had nothing to do with it.
Coastal Georgia legislators were asked how they felt about legalized gambling in the wake of meetings held by House and Senate committees in Atlanta to discuss gambling as a potential revenue source for the state. The committees have until the convening of the 2016 session of the General Assembly in January to come up with a proposal.
Gambling of any nature would hit a stone wall with Rep. Jones.
“While I personally do not object to gambling per se, I believe the expansion of gambling ... is not good for Georgia or its citizens,” Jones said. “The short and long-term negatives far outweigh any positives that an expansion of gambling might bring to our state.”
Jones cringes at the prospect, noting that “in the vast majority of cases, those who can least afford it and those who are most adversely affected by it are the citizens who fork over their money to gamble.”
He said legislators must come up with better, more creative ways to generate funds.
“Better yet, my fellow legislators and I need to find ways to control and reduce government spending so that finding new revenue streams is unnecessary,” Jones said. “Government already takes more than enough money out of the pockets of our citizens.”
Rep. Atwood says gambling is risky business. It wasn’t too long ago that legislators were pondering the idea of opening state-owned Jekyll Island to slot machines.
“It has been brought to my attention that the impact of casinos on local property values is negative, according to the National Association of Realtors,” he said. “I have also read that communities located within 10 miles of a casino exhibit double the rate of problem gambling and suffer higher rates of home foreclosures and other forms of economic distress and domestic violence.
“Finally, as a former federal agent who has worked against criminal syndicates, the increased potential of public corruption is something we certainly do not need in Georgia.”
Rep. Spencer has a different take.
“I have no problems with casino gambling and pari-mutuel wagering,” he said. “However, what I do have a problem with is the state sanctioning this enterprise. If left to private actors, then so be it. It can be regulated accordingly. However, when the state takes on such a venture and sanctions this type of activity, you create conditions very ripe for corruption and collusion.”
He is not buying arguments from proponents who say it could help fund more HOPE scholarships.
“The next thing you know, the state will want to permit brothels along with casinos on Jekyll Island all under the guise that ‘we did it for the children,’” Spencer said. “Yes, I think Jekyll Island could be a target for casino operations. There are folks inside the Gold Dome that are looking our way.”
Sen. Ligon said he would never support gambling on Jekyll Island.
“I do not think that bringing gambling to Jekyll Island is consistent with its family-friendly environment,” Ligon said. “I will oppose any effort to expand gambling in our state and especially will oppose a casino on Jekyll.”