Although I have worked for Appen Newspapers for over a year now, I did not have the opportunity to talk to Rep. Harry Geisinger, R-Roswell, until last week.
The main topic of conversation was horse racing. Geisinger said Georgia’s number-one industry is agriculture and once timber is removed from the equation, tourism takes its place. Legal horse racing would benefit both — it would encourage breeding of horses that would employ many Georgians and attract visitors.
Geisinger said he spoke to Bill Farish, the former chairman of the board of the Breeder’s Cup. Farish said this event, which Geisinger called “the world championship of horse racing,” is interested in setting up a permanent home in Atlanta. What makes Atlanta attractive is the airport, which is capable of accommodating large jets like the kind that carry horses, as well as fine hotels and restaurants that well-heeled visitors appreciate.
The 2011 Breeder’s Cup brought $53.3 million to Louisville, Ky. Imagine that money coming here. Imagine the damaged roads that could be repaired or the property tax cuts made possible by the revenues from tourists. And if the Breeder’s Cup makes Atlanta its permanent home, this money would come every year.
And the tracks would not sit idle for the remainder of the year. Other races will come, which will entice people already in Atlanta for conventions to stay an extra day or two. That’s even more money for local businesses.
And that’s not all. According to House Resolution 186, Geisinger’s proposed constitutional amendment to allow gambling on horse racing in Georgia, net gambling revenue would benefit the HOPE scholarship, pre-kindergarten and trauma care.
HOPE has already been cut once in 2011. The AJC reports more cuts may come by fall 2014. To avoid this, the state would need an extra $107 million in fiscal year 2014, with the needed funds rising to $163 million in 2016.
And trauma care is another area that needs money. Geisinger said if you get in a car accident south of Macon, your odds of survival drop due to lack of nearby trauma centers. Allowing gambling revenues collected from non-Georgians to pay for trauma care will be less burdensome to state residents than the car-tag fee voters rejected in 2010.
Geisinger makes a good case, and I will add my own reasons. I have long opposed agricultural subsidies, but a member of an Internet forum I frequent has warned if unprofitable farms are allowed to fail, the land will be suburbanized, ruining the topsoil and threatening America’s long-term ability to feed itself.
His concern is a legitimate one. Most of the north metro area used to be agricultural, but as Atlanta sprawled, the land has been consumed. Back when I lived in Lovejoy, I saw what I was told was a former horse farm next to my apartment complex graded in preparation to build condos.
Should gambling on horse racing be legalized, this will give the remaining horse farms in North Fulton and Forsyth County a private-sector boost. They will not be sold to developers, preserving metro Atlanta’s shrinking green space. When I suggested this rationale to Geisinger, he said Lexington is full of green space, attributing it to the upkeep of horses for Kentucky’s famous races.
H.R. 186 did not pass this session. However, previous failure does not mean permanent failure. Look at Sunday alcohol sales, which were long vetoed by Gov. Sonny Perdue and barely escaped a back-room meeting last year. Thanks to popular pressure, a vote was ultimately held and Sunday sales are now a reality across much of Georgia.
If you want to attract tourists, safeguard the HOPE scholarship and protect our shrinking green space, let your legislators know that you want the chance to vote on legal horse racing in the next legislative session.
Matthew W. Quinn is the editor of the Johns Creek Herald. Those who would like to learn more about him should visit his blog, www.accordingtoquinn.com.