Could video poker save Georgia's HOPE Scholarship?

8:48 PM, Feb 15, 2012   |    comments
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ATLANTA (WXIA) -- You've probably seen those video gaming and video poker machines in many Georgia convenience stores.

They're perfectly legal, as long as winning customers are paid with certain merchandise and not cash.

Now a state lawmaker thinks those machines can save Georgia's shrinking HOPE Scholarship program.

The State Lottery is only taking in about $800 million a year with about $1.2 billion going to HOPE.

Instead of covering 100 percent of tuition like it once did, HOPE now only covers about 80 percent and some estimate that amount could drop to only 50 percent in a couple of years.

Representative Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) thinks those video gambling machines could make up the difference...and more, if the lottery also had them.

He points to a 2011 study by the Georgia Lottery Corporation that claims video machines could mean another $1 billion a year for HOPE, more than enough to cover the current shortfall.

What's more, he told 11Alive News on Wednesday that much of that money would come from visitors.

"This is just a mechanism for us to continue to make sure that it (HOPE) remains viable," Rep. Stephens said.

"In addition to that, to stimulate tourism in areas where there is a huge tourism demand," he added.

The Savannah Republican has a lot of Democratic support for his legislation, but some in his own party aren't so sure about his fix.

"I haven't ruled it out completely, but I do have concerns," Sen. Buddy Carter (R-Pooler) told 11Alive News.

"I think it is a very slippery slope once we start going in that direction, so I would have to ponder that long and hard," he added.

Gov. Nathan Deal is on record opposing any more gambling in the state.

But Rep. Stephens has written his resolution to authorize the lottery to use the machines only in areas where local governments approve.

It also gives priority to tourist communities like Atlanta and Savannah.

The fact that it's a resolution and not a bill also means Gov. Deal could not veto it.

Stephens compares his legislation to last year's Sunday alcohol sales bill which has only gone into effect where local voters have approved it.

Gov. Deal was personally opposed to Sunday sales, but signed the bill so local communities could decide for themselves.

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