Casino gambling money in Georgia could benefit health care in addition to college scholarships.
That's a change pitched on Thursday in a controversial casino gambling bill in the legislature, which got a hearing on Thursday.
The bill is being tweaked to make it more palatable to potential swing voters in the legislature. But the hearing was about the basics: Casinos, pro and con.
A casino in Atlanta would create some 5,000 -- and, backers say, a second casino in another Georgia city would create thousands more.
"This is definitely a job creating bill," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta). "The other thing is there will be no public money, no tax incentives. This is all private dollars."
But, in a packed committee room, opponents told lawmakers that casinos would spread gambling addiction and bankruptcy.
"The costs involved are significant," said Dr. Robert White of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. "The moral costs, and the devastation of families is very very significant."
The bill would allow no more than two casinos in Georgia, with a $2 billion investment required for an Atlanta casino. It would enact a 20 percent state tax on earnings. Half that money would benefit HOPE, 30 percent would go to a needs-based scholarship. And as of now, a 20 percent portion would help fund rural health care needs.
Although backers say casinos would be a boon to Georgia tourism, a study conducted by a downtown Atlanta business group warned most of the wagering would come from local residents.
"That's a fact," said A.J. Robinson of Central Atlanta Progress. "You can go to Vegas, maybe, and it's all about tourism. But everywhere else it's been introduced, it's really about locals."
Central Atlanta Progress says it's officially neutral on the casino bill, which appears to be on a slow track through this legislative session.