COMMENTARY: Coalition of legislators and leaders speak out against gambling expansion

Gambling opponents hold a press conference at the Capitol in Atlanta earlier this week.
Gambling opponents hold a press conference at the Capitol in Atlanta earlier this week.

Community leaders and legislators expressed their concerns about gambling expansion Wednesday during a Capitol press conference organized by Citizen Impact, Frontline Policy Council and the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. It was entitled: “Protecting Georgians from Gambling Expansion,” and its intent was to share how that out-of-state and well-funded special interests are once again lobbying to usher in gambling expansion in Georgia. 


The speakers indicated that this kind of failed policy has proven to have devastating effects on states that opt to put the demands of the industry ahead of the interests of the citizenry.

Current proposed legislation poses a major risk to the state’s economy, mental health, crime, human trafficking and more. Gambling expansion in the State of Georgia is a public policy bet that our state cannot afford to make!

Attendees and news organizations heard from a coalition of legislators and community leaders who spoke on the need to protect our state from gambling expansion. 


According to Georgia’s constitution, only a constitutional ballot initiative recommended by the legislature can expand the dangers of legal gambling.


Cole Muzio, the Executive Director of Frontline Policy Council, said a lot of good legislation was being addressed in the legislature – like mental health and crime reform – but “we have to understand that gambling expansion undoes so much of that good.”


Speakers such as Representative Wes Cantrell warned that the current proposed legislation poses a major risk to the state’s economy, mental health, crime, human trafficking and more. Gambling expansion in the State of Georgia is a public policy bet that our state cannot afford to make.


“Gambling is bad for our economy, gambling is bad for our families,” Cantrell said. “Parents throwing away rent money,milk money – it's not good.” He also included examples like personal bankruptcies and crime, which have a negative impact on our state. 


Kasey McClure, Founder and Executive Director of 4SARAH,expressed her personal experience with sex trafficking and how it connects to gambling. 


“I am a survivor of that industry and when you talk about gambling and casinos alarms go off in my head,” McClure said.“If you allow gambling to continue to happen and set up shop in Atlanta, the sex industry is going to boom. It's already booming but it's going to continue to boom more … they're going to bring girls here because Atlanta is going to be known as an opportunity for pimps to exploit young girls.” 


One chilling effect of gambling expansion has to do with mental illness. Representative Todd Jones, the sponsor of the new mental health legislation in the House, reminded, “We know, no matter what your opinion is on gambling that almost every family in this state is impacted by either mental health or substance abuse.” He said suddenly putting in a third entity like gambling, which is intellectually dishonest, could cause them harm. He said this is not something that Georgians can support.


Representative Jodi Lott, one of the Governor’s Floor Leaders,shared her concern for gambling expansion by saying, “We know that addiction is a real possibility when it (gambling)happens, and that kind of thing affects your communities. It certainly affects your neighbors and your family, and it can affect your businesses, as well and those that are working in your businesses. So, I have a real passion to avoid bringing this here!”


Retired Professor, John Kindt, University of Illinois, informed, “These hybrid electronic slots are known throughout the medical community as the crack-cocaine for hooking new addicted gamblers, which will increase 98-110 percent among adults, and 200 percent among kids and teens if current Georgia proposals are authorized. Gambling addiction is like drug and opioid addictions per the American Psychiatric Association and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”


Where there are winners, there are losers. Senator Marty Harbin said gambling expansion is a win-lose situation. The gambling organizations will win while the people will lose. He continued to emphasize that current business practices in our state have ledus to be number one in doing business. He said we need to continue to provide workers the kind of jobs that benefit our state. 


On this point, Representative Josh Bonner asked that if we’re already number one in doing business, how much more “number one” can we get? He said, “When we ask ourselves the questions, do we need it? The answer is No. Is it worth it? No. So we will continue to fight to keep this out of Georgia for as long as we possibly can.”


The citizens of our state need to reach out to their House and Senate member to ask them to vote NO on any constitutional ballot initiative to expand any form of gambling in Georgia.

Whether it is Sports Betting, Casinos, or Parimutuel Betting on Horse Racing, ask them to oppose these dangers to our state.


Other speakers included: Mike Griffin (Public Affairs Representative for the Georgia Baptists); Steven Cook(Professional Horse Communicator, 369 Equus); Paul Smith(Executive Director, Citizen Impact); Mark McElreath (Pastor, City Baptist Church, Atlanta); Joy Creasman (Marketing Director, Faith and Freedom Coalition) and Rep. Ed Setzler, Dist. 35, Acworth.