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Slot machines at the JACK Cleveland Casino.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The MDJ sent six questions to each candidate in the June 15 special election to succeed former state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta. The questions were identical for each candidate, and candidates were asked to limit their responses to 250 words. This is the fourth installment of the six-part series.

Each session, the General Assembly debates the issue of gambling in Georgia (about a dozen bills in the last session), dealing with casinos, online, sports and pari-mutuel betting, etc. Do you support legalizing more forms of gambling in the state of Georgia?

DAVID BLINKHORN (R):

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David Blinkhorn

I oppose legalized gambling in Georgia. Beyond the moral objections I have to that expansion as a Christian of deep faith, I have important public policy objections to it as well.

Studies have shown that personal bankruptcies increase in communities that saw the expansion of gambling. These bankruptcies are often the result of debt directly associated with gambling addiction, but can in many cases be attributed to the neglect of personal debts that exist independent of any gambling. However, individuals will neglect those debts (like homes, cars, and student loans) to finance the chance to “strike it big.”

The honest truth behind gambling expansion is that private casino conglomerates see our State as an “untapped market” where billions of dollars can be made on the backs of people that can least afford it. There aren’t any documented benefits of any significance, and when politicians are saying it brings in more “revenue,” they’re simply saying they refuse to prioritize public spending in ways that actually invests in the community. It’s easier to promise people a “yes” than to have to explain a “no” when they ask for more tax money.

SAM HENSLEY JR. (D):

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Sam Hensley Jr.

The genie of legal gambling was let out of the bottle a long time ago when Georgia approved the lottery. That industry was sold as a method controlled by the State to fund higher education, which to a large degree it has. The Hope Scholarship is enormously popular among Georgians. As State and local governments look for ways to address revenue and budget shortfalls, additional forms of gambling are becoming more attractive. Casinos and pari-mutuel betting could create jobs, increase the tax base, and encourage more tourism to our State. While I would consider supporting more forms of legalized gambling, they would need to (be) tightly regulated and should probably be required to dedicate a portion of the revenues to education funding and treatment for gambling addiction.

CHRIS NEILL (L):

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Chris Neill

Gambling is already legal in Georgia and the state lottery is a jealously guarded government monopoly that is lauded as a secure and voluntary source of revenue. But lottery players are generally older, poorer, and less educated leading to concerns of exploitation for simply being bad at math. Contrast that dismal reality with the fact that in 2019 approximately 44% of American adults visited a casino creating more than $40 billion in gaming revenues along with countless billions in additional tourism expenses and employment opportunities. Due to COVID the online gambling market in the US grew to almost $2 billion in 2020. Georgia would be wise to consider opening up competition in gambling instead of allowing most of those dollars to go to other states.

DEVAN SEABAUGH (R):

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Devan Seabaugh

There have been dozens of proposals in recent years regarding expanding gambling in Georgia. When elected, I will have to review proposals on the table and assess what’s best for our community and state. I have no desire to see Georgia become the next Las Vegas with big casinos in communities like ours. In other states that have expanded casino gambling, it has been passed based on promises of billions in new revenue that have failed to deliver. In many of the proposals in recent years, that decision would be left to the voters, and if the people in HD 34 want to vote on the issue, I won’t stand in their way. However, I am open to measured approaches that would expand our existing Lottery, to include sports betting, so long as revenues generated were dedicated to shoring up and safeguarding the HOPE Scholarship for future generations of Georgians.

PRISCILLA SMITH (D):

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Priscilla Smith

I’ve played poker. I’ve lost money to the one-armed bandit. I don’t love it enough for it to be a problem. My adrenaline rush comes from acting or getting a laugh or running for office. I suppose the freedom of adults to spend time and money gambling ought to be up to them. So when we do expand gambling in Georgia, once it gets on a ballot, we need to make it help pay for those who fall prey to problem gambling with a “percent for mental health” fee or tax. And those monies needn’t be limited to mental health issues related only to gambling. After all, most people for whom gambling is a problem have other mental and emotional issues. We prey on the most economically disadvantaged to fund our state scholarships and pre-K, so gamblers can make mental health care more accessible. And let’s shave off some of those dollars to help create a steady stream of income for art and artists. I’ll go play blackjack knowing that a portion of my losings are helping pay for a play in Kennesaw, a concert in Marietta, or an art teacher in Cobb Schools.

And a note of caution: big-name casinos who bring in big-name entertainers can have a real negative effect on places like The Cobb Energy Center. MGM (and others) put restrictions on artist contracts that prevent that artist from performing anywhere within a defined radius of the casino. That could be a problem.

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