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Georgia Senate kills horse racing measure

Once again, the push to legalize some form of gambling in Georgia has fizzled in the General Assembly.

The state Senate killed a constitutional amendment Tuesday that would have put legalizing pari-mutuel betting on horse racing on the ballot for Georgia voters in November.

Senators voted 33-20 in favor of the legislation Tuesday morning, falling short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass a constitutional amendment.

Sen. Jeff Mullis, RChickamauga, the measure's sponsor, tried to get it back on the Senate floor throughout the rest of the day, but the Senate adjourned early Tuesday evening without taking it up.

Tuesday was Crossover Day in the General Assembly, the deadline for bills to pass at least one legislative chamber to remain alive for the year.

Citing a study conducted by Georgia Southern University, Sen. Billy Hickman, R-Statesboro, who raises racehorses, said legalizing pari-mutuel betting on horse racing would grow an equine industry that would create 8,500 jobs – including many in rural Georgia and deliver nearly $1 billion in annual economic impact. The existing horse breeding industry in Georgia needs the boost building racetracks in the Peach State would give it, said Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta. 'There's no incentive for owners and breeders to race their horses in our state,' he said. 'Millions of dollars leave Georgia every year.' The legislation called for dedicating the state's portion of proceeds from horse racing to education, health care and rural economic development.

But opponents warned horse racing would lead to gambling addiction.

'We've all met people who could not handle gambling,' said Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone. 'Money goes from the table. Money goes from paying for housing.'

Technically, legalizing gambling in Georgia remains a live issue even though Crossover Day has come and gone. A constitutional amendment the Senate passed last year asking voters to decide whether to legalize sports betting remains alive in the state House of Representatives.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

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