Georgia casino proceeds eyed for healthcare, tax relief

ATLANTA — If casino gambling comes to Georgia, the state's winnings may benefit more than just education.

Revenue from casino taxes and fees would be funneled to the state’s HOPE scholarship for college and pre-K education, under a current proposal to license four casinos.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, said Friday that he’s open to adding other beneficiaries of the money - such as healthcare, local tax relief and scholarships for those who make the grades but cannot afford college.

Stephens said the proposal will still send most of the revenue – at least 90 percent – to education. But, if approved, casinos are expected to raise about $1 billion in taxes and fees - more than what's needed for HOPE and pre-K.

Rep. Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgeville, proposes dedicating some of the extra money to local tax relief and healthcare, including aid to hospitals and mental health programs.

Kidd said money is sorely needed for rural healthcare and local property owners who are the primary source of revenue for many rural governments. The proposed amendment, he said, will broaden support for allowing casinos in Georgia.

“People back in rural Georgia may be opposed to casino gaming, but they’d rather keep their hospital open,” he said Friday.

Others have raised concerns that the casino money could be put to other uses.

“There’s no greater need than healthcare and finding the money,” Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, said at a committee meeting this week.

Lawmakers are considering whether to license four casinos – two of which would be built outside of the Atlanta metro area. 

The facilities' revenue would be taxed at 20 percent – rather than the originally proposed 12 percent. The casinos would pay a license fee ranging from $15 million to $40 million.

The bill also calls for a minimum investment by casino developers, of at least $1.25 billion and $750 million for the metro casinos and $400 million for each of those outside of Atlanta.

The proposal was teed up for a vote Friday but delayed until Monday by House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. He said lawmakers needed more time to hear from constituents – particularly those they share pews with on Sunday.

“The faith community needs to be heard,” he said Friday.

If approved under the Gold Dome, voters would also be asked to amend the state constitution to allow casino gambling in Georgia.

Jill Nolin covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jnolin@cnhi.com.

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