ATLANTA, Ga -- A re-tooled casino gambling bill is expected to be introduced next week at the state capitol.
It will represent another go at an issue that mostly went nowhere last year. This year, however, may be different.
Lawmakers are expected to narrow their focus on fewer casinos, and also stress that the decision is up to voters.
Last year, casino interests presented lawmakers with an abundance of new casinos in Georgia, with the promise of generating millions for the HOPE scholarship. The issue never came to a vote.
But Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) says the bill's odds are "better than last year."
Stephens says the casino issue has bubbled backstage but is about to get visible in a big way.
"If f you have a casino in the world, all eyes are focused on Georgia right now," Stephens said. "It is the plum."
Although it’s not final yet, lawmakers are considering limiting the state to two casinos, up from six that were proposed last year.
They’re also talking about a 20 percent tax on casinos for education. Last year’s bill proposed 12 percent.
Also under consideration is a new, needs-based college scholarship fund, in addition to the merit-based HOPE.
This year’s effort will also stress that Georgia voters have the final say-so, providing cover to wavering lawmakers.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said the issue is mostly off the radar so far this year. "I would say that right now it doesn’t have a lot of momentum," Cagle said.
But Cagle acknowledges that could change, and Stephens thinks it will.
"I predict this year we’re probably going to have a vote," Stephens said.
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