Georgia's casino gambling bill back from the dead

A push to legalize casino gambling in Georgia may have a little life left.

Thursday Rep. Ron Stephens, R -Savannah, presented an updated "destination resort" bill to the House Regulated Industries Committee.

"We really are looking for a high-end investment for tourism," Stephens told committee members.

The House Bill 158 substitute expands the maximum number of state-licensed casinos from two to four, which Rep. Stephens believes could garner it more statewide support.

"We've eliminated the opportunity for certain places around the state to even be part of the game, if you will.  No pun intended," said Rep. Stephens.

Under the bill, the largest resort would require an investment of $2 billion, with the second largest at $450 million.  The state would also allow two smaller, "tertiary" locations to set up shop with a minimum investment of $150 million each.

The idea for destination resorts, according to Stephens, is to boost economic development in Georgia and provide much-needed funding support for the HOPE Scholarship program, as well as a new, needs-based scholarship.

Opponents, however, fear it could lead to more problems.

"Casinos are a net loss for the state," said Dave Baker, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition of Georgia.  "They bring addiction, bankruptcy and crime-- that includes human trafficking.  And we work to fight so many of these things in so many other bills to bring casinos to the state is just moving completely in the wrong direction."

A similar bill in the Senate failed to garner the support it needed to make it out of the committee process, but Stephens believes his new measure could make it off the ground, even though it will take some legislative maneuvering to get the language on the floor for a vote.

"We got three days," smiled Rep. Stephens.  "Magic happens in three days.  So, you never know."