Slot machines are seen inside Ute Mountain Casino Hotel on Aug. 19, 2020. The facility in Towaoc, Colorado reopened this week.

ATLANTA – For the first time during the 2021 General Assembly session, legislative leaders have combined all three forms of gambling they’re considering legalizing into a single resolution.

A Georgia House subcommittee approved a constitutional amendment Wednesday that would ask voters whether to legalize casinos, sports betting and pari-mutuel betting on horse racing in the Peach State.

While efforts to legalize casinos and horse racing haven’t made it through either legislative chamber despite years of trying, backers of legalized gambling have long cited polls that show most Georgians would support legalized gambling if they ever get a chance at a statewide referendum.

“Let folks vote on it,” said Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, chairman of the House Regulated Industries Committee, which is expected to take up the new resolution later this week. “They’re the only ones who can make the decision.”

As introduced in January, the constitutional amendment was limited to casinos. A portion of the proceeds was to go toward the lottery-funded HOPE Scholarships program.

The new version of the measure not only would broaden legalized gambling to horse racing and sports betting.

Instead of going to HOPE, the state’s share of the proceeds from casinos and horseracing would be dedicated to health care, while the sports betting proceeds would go toward needs-based scholarships.

HOPE was founded as a need-based program during the early 1990s but was later converted to award scholarships based on merit.

Powell said putting most of the state’s proceeds from legalized gambling into health care would provide a much needed boost to a variety of programs that could use the help.

“We could expand Medicaid, do mental health, rural hospitals, lots of things,” he said.

House Democrats have long expressed a desire to launch a needs-based scholarship program in Georgia. Committing sports betting proceeds to that purpose would help line up support for the constitutional amendment from the Democratic Caucus.

Still, the resolution faces long odds. Constitutional amendments require two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate, a barrier supporters of legalized gambling thus far have been unable to hurdle.

Powell said if the constitutional amendment clears the General Assembly this session, an “enabling” bill spelling out details of how each of the three forms of legalized gambling would be administered would follow next year. The statewide referendum would take place in November 2022.

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