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State's largest religious group standing against push to bring casinos to Georgia

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Aaron McCollough, leader of the Troup Baptist Association, is marshalling opposition to a reported plan to bring casino gambling to the LaGrange area.



By ROGER ALFORD
The Christian Index

LaGRANGE, Ga. – News that a coalition of casino companies will be making a major push to expand gambling in Georgia has Aaron McCollough concerned.

McCollough, leader of the Troup Baptist Association, is marshalling opponents in western Georgia because those companies are reportedly eying two potential locations in the LaGrange area for a casino.

“We’ve got to get out in front of this thing,” he said. “We can’t wait until it’s coming up for a vote in the Legislature. It’ll be too late then.”

Media outlets have identified several potential locations across Georgia where companies are considering casinos, including LaGrange, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Hartwell, Kingsland and Savannah.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle reported in July that prominent casino operators have formed a lobbying coalition to persuade Georgia lawmakers to expand the state’s gambling laws in the next legislative session.

The newspaper identified a virtual Who’s Who from the gambling world joining forces for the push, including Caesars Entertainment Corp., Foxwoods Resort Casinos, Penn National Gaming, Bally’s Corp., Hard Rock Inc., Wynn Resorts, and real estate investment firm Gaming & Leisure’s Properties Inc.

The coalition’s sales pitch is largely unchanged: Legalizing casino gambling would create an economic boom in Georgia and generate millions of dollars in state taxes that could be pumped into education.

All past attempts to legalize casino gambling in Georgia have failed, but local anti-gambling activists like McCollough are leaving nothing to chance. He is calling on more than a million Georgia Baptists to let their governor and lawmakers know not only that they’re opposed to casinos but also that they’ll be holding them accountable at the polls if they don’t toe the line.

The Georgia Baptist Convention, with 1.4 million members in 3,600 churches, is the state’s largest religious organization as well as the state’s largest conservative voting bloc.

McCollough holds a key position in the Georgia Baptist Convention as a member of its Public Affairs Committee. That committee, made up largely of pastors from across the state, guides the convention’s legislative agenda, which has always included opposition to expanding gambling.

“It’s the only industry I know of that’s built on somebody losing,” McCollough said. “The last statistics I heard, for every dollar of revenue it generates, it costs $3 on the backside in social services to deal with the broken lives and broken families. Who would want a business that’s automatically going to lose you $3 for every $1 that you generate?”

Mike Griffin, the legislative agent for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said the arguments that casinos provide economic benefits fail to consider that when gambling increases so, too, does crime, addiction and bankruptcy.

Proponents also argue that Georgia is losing tax revenue to other states when residents travel to other states to gamble.

“I don’t believe we would want to use this line of reasoning,” Griffin said. “People are already engaged in prostitution. Should we make prostitution legal? People are already engaged in illegal drug activity. Should we make all that legal? People are violating the speeding laws in our state. Should we make speeding legal? I don’t think so.”

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