March 8, 2016 by Cameron Bishop

GeorgiaA bill planning to introduce casinos to the state of Georgia in United States has been blocked for the moment after it failed to get approval last week from the state’s House of Representatives.

The legislation proposes to build up to four casinos in the state after receiving approval from the legislature and voters in the state. Gambling is currently banned by Georgia’s Constitution and a constitutional amendment is required to legalize it.

Despite the loss and the opposition to the plan by key government officials like Speaker David Ralston and the state’s Governor Nathan Deal, supporters have expressed optimism that it is moving in the right direction. The bill was introduced by Rep. Ron Stephens in 2015 who has said that the casinos can prove to be beneficial in funding the state’s merit based scholarship plan, HOPE.

The HOPE program, which provides full scholarship to public institutions for Georgia’s students, is backed by the state lottery. But the lottery has been unable to keep up with demand forcing Gov. Deal to rework the terms of the scholarship. Casinos have been suggested as an option to supply the additional support needed for the program.

While gambling operators have done their best to persuade the state’s lawmakers of the benefits from gambling tax revenues, many in the state have warned of the downside from allowing gambling in the state including problem gambling and increased crime.

Stephens said that he had expected the bill to be defeated, adding that he anticipates the bill approval process to last two to three years. The bill’s co-sponsor Rep. Stacey Evans said that she will continue to push for the proposal, saying that the revenue from gambling should be used towards helping students requiring financial support.

In a statement, Rep. Stacy Evans said,

We must make sure that we allocate the funds to their highest and best use. For me, that means using the funds for higher education assistance, with some portion designated to help those students with demonstrated financial need.

The bill needs approval from two-thirds of both chambers of the state’s legislature as it involves amending the state’s constitution. With most of the states in Southern U.S. limiting casinos to those owned by Indian tribes or banning it altogether, Georgia stands to gain significantly if the bill gets approved.

However opponents like Rep. Paul Battles have however said that no matter what benefits or revenues the casino industry might bring, it is not enough for them to change their stance on the bill.