Georgia Senate Skeptical of Horse Racing Bill

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Georgia Horse Racing Bill Draws Fire From Senate Leaders

Georgia’s quest to legalize pari-mutuel betting on horse racing was met with much skeptism during the Senate hearing today.

Several members of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee questioned whether horse racing could create the 5,000 jobs or generate the $500 million a year in economic impact projected by the bill’s supporters.

The plans for a ground-breaking mixed-use race track development was unveiled earlier this month by the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition, and Sen. Republican Brandon Beach, the bill’s chief sponsor, has stood by the economic projections presented by the coalition.

“It’s more than pari-mutuel wagering. It’s more about jobs and the equestrian industry than the track,” Beach said. “I think the attitudes have changed,” Beach noted in reference to gambling and objections from leaders at Capital Hill.

However, after much objection and concerns raised by some senators, Beach said he has agreed to remove one provision of his bill permitting off-track betting establishments in Georgia.

Concerns raised from senate leaders included local horsemen’s experience running a race track where generated income would go from off-track betting. Since racetracks only operate a few months a year at most, “much of the revenue generated from pari-mutuel betting would be on bets by Georgians on races in other states,” said Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Tucker.

“I haven’t seen a good economic study that shows in-state versus out-of-state money,” Henson said. “I don’t want to send money out of state.”

Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer for the racing division of Stronach Group, which operates Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla., said a Georgia racetrack would stand a good chance of landing the Breeder’s Cup, one of the top events in horse racing.

“That would have a huge impact,” he said.

The debate and disagreements at Monday’s Senate hearing included lobbyists trying to persuade lawmakers to legalize casino gambling in Georgia, and representatives of religious organizations, who also spoke out against the horse racing bill. Several pointed to a decline in attendance at racetracks over the last two decades forcing tracks to add casinos and off-track betting to make ends meet.