Georgia state full Senate on Tuesday failed to achieve the necessary support for legislation seeking a constitutional amendment that would have allowed voters to decide whether to legalize betting on horse racing.
The Senate voted 33-20 in favor of Senate Resolution 131, but that wasn't enough to meet the two-thirds requirement for a constitutional amendment to move forward to the House, as reported by the Associated Press. The legislative session saw a mix of Republicans and Democrats vote for and against the measure.
Republican Sen. Jeff Mullis of Chickamauga, who wore a jockey's helmet when he first spoke on the bill, said he was "disappointed" of his colleagues. "I was really hoping you would let this go to the ballot. That’s all this does is send it to the ballot,” he stated. Mullis tried to set up a second vote on the legislation, but gave up on that attempt at the end of Tuesday, the deadline for measures to pass out of their original chamber in the Georgia General Assembly.
Georgia Sen. Jeff Mullis of Chickamauga
Furthermore, Senate Bill 212, which went along with the constitutional amendment, would have authorized up to five horse racing tracks anywhere in the state. Proponents pointed to a Georgia Southern University study that shows horse racing could boost the state’s economy by $1.28 billion a year and create 15,800 jobs over a decade. “We should be rolling out the red carpet for this industry," said Sen. Brandon Beach.
However, opponents questioned whether horse tracks could survive without slot machines or some other kind of electronic gambling and casino games, all barred in the measure.
Some Georgia lawmakers typically attempt to expand gambling every year in the General Assembly, but none have been successful since voters approved the lottery in 1992. The House has been less friendly to expansion efforts in recent years, but House Speaker David Ralston gave proponents new hope in January when he said “there is an appetite this session that I hadn't seen before to do something,” suggesting proponents should focus on a constitutional amendment and leave until later the details of whether the state will legalize casinos, sports betting or horse-race betting.
Senate Bill 142, a sports betting measure that the Senate approved last year, is still alive in the House this year. Last month, Rep. Ron Stephens said he feels “hopeful” lawmakers will get a bill passed this session to get sports gaming on the ballot.