Friday, February 10, 2017

Destination Resort Act

It seems whenever sin comes calling, it usually finds a willing accomplice. Never mind that it is easy to find if you go looking for it. Sin has a way of finding those who are not looking and actually depending others to look out for them. What is this sin of which I speak and who are the accomplices who are all too eager to accommodate using the power of state government to assist? The sin I am talking about the bane of casino gambling trying once again to gain a foothold in our state. The accomplices are Georgia State Senator Brandon Beach (R-District 21) and Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah).
On January 26, 2017, Sen. Beach introduced Senate Bill 79 – Destination Resort Act (Rep. Stephens introduced an identical bill, HB-158, in the state House of Representatives the same day).  This is an interesting little piece of legislation would establish a state gambling commission (the bill refers to this as a gaming commission), outlines the regulatory guidelines under which said commission will operate, how employees are hired, licenses granted, etc. The twenty-eight page bill is chocked full of all of the legal language you’d expect our legislators to pack into a bill. Put simply: it is a fairly well written document that spells out what needs to be spelled out while leaving plenty of room for the commission to operate with very wide latitude.
Of particular interest is the final page of the document. Section 2 of the bill, lines 970 – 973, state that this piece of legislation shall be repealed on January 1, 2019 IF the constitution of the great State of Georgia is not amended by the General Assembly and ratified by the voters at the November 2018 general election. You see, casino gambling is currently illegal and the framework that is being pushed is useless UNLESS two things happen.
First, under Article X, the General Assembly will have to craft an amendment to the constitution that is passed by two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of the assembly. It is interesting to note that the governor is unable to veto constitutional amendments. In fact, the legislature can put an entirely new constitution on a statewide ballot and the governor can do nothing to prevent it. Additionally, the legislature can unilaterally call for a constitutional convention without even placing it on statewide ballot for voter approval.
Second, the required constitutional amendment will have to be placed on the next statewide ballot (November 2018) for voter approval. It should be noted that current Governor Nathan Deal (R) is term limited and unable to run for reelection. As such, there will also be a campaign for governor taking place next year though I strongly suspect Gov. Deal will support SB-79 and the constitutional amendment should one be passed by the legislature. My suspicions aside, I expect the constitutional amendment to be a hotly contested election year issue, should it actually come to pass and make it on to the November 2018 ballot. An additional note, Sen. Beach will be seeking reelection during the 2018 cycle.
This afternoon, I sent an email to my state senator, Ellis Black introducing myself. My family and I moved into Sen. Black’s district about a year ago and I have not had any contact with him. Prior to moving into District 8, my family and I lived in District 21, Sen. Brandon Beach’s district. We had the pleasure of meeting Sen. Beach’s predecessor Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chip Rogers prior to his leaving office. I thought it was appropriate to introduce myself as both a constituent of Sen. Black’s as well as a member of one of the many churches in District 8. I wouldn’t say hearing from me is something Sen. Black can likely expect with great frequency though he may hear from me again in the future.
I went on to express both my disappointment in his sponsorship of opposition to the Destination Resort Act. I began by stating that the commercial gambling industry has done an excellent job reinventing itself and convincing both the public and government officials that gambling is simply a form of adult entertainment. I also pointed out that out-of-control gambling becomes a huge problem, the business is exploitive, and attracts a variety of criminal elements to the communities in which they operate, and clearly undermines the biblical principles for living the Christian life.
The most egregious aspect of the proposal to bring casino gambling to Georgia is the reasoning behind it: funding education. In other words, Sens. Beach, Tate, Black, Mullis, and Harbison want to legalize and bring casino gambling to Georgia for the sake of the children. It would be an amusing bit of comedy were it not true. The issues with using this funding source for the purpose of education are many but my primary objection is this funding method places state government in the business of promoting vice in order to fully fund education in the state.
Co-Sponsors of the Senate version of the bill include Horacena Tate (D-District 38), Ellis Black (R-District 8), Jeff Mullis (R-District 53), and Ed Harbison (D-District 15). Co-Sponsors of the House version of the bill include Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), Howard Maxwell (R-Dallas), Stacey Evens (D-Smyrna), Paulette Rakestraw (R-Powder Springs), and Michele Henson (D-Stone Mountain). 
I encourage my fellow Georgians to contact your own representatives in the Senate and House as well as these co-sponsors and let them know we don’t want casino gambling and the problems it brings in Georgia. I will post a follow up if I hear back from Sen. Black.

The text full text of my email to Sen. Ellis Black is as follows:

Senator Black,
I am one of your newer constituents here in South Georgia having moved to Hahira in February 2016. I have lived in the metropolitan Atlanta area most of my life and consider myself blessed to be living in South Georgia. It is a wonderful place to raise a family and serve God in a local church. Of course, you already know how wonderful living in this part of our great state is!
I was rather disappointed to learn that you are one of the sponsors of Georgia Senate Bill 79 - Destination Resort Act. I wanted to take a moment to express my opposition to this bill. The commercial gambling industry has done an amazing job reinventing itself and convincing the public and government that it is merely a form of entertainment. Only four decades ago the media referred to the rise of gambling in the United States as an “epidemic.” Promises of harmless fun for the gambling public and increased tax revenues for the state have lured many states into approving legalized gambling of one form or another to the detriment of the citizens of their states. The human cost of gambling is rarely spoken of when the entertainment value and potential revenues are being discussed. The industry’s trade association does make mention of the resources they dedicate to such problems but this is after the fact, after lives are ruined and families destroyed.
For many people, gambling becomes a serious problem threatening nearly aspect of daily life. Unlike in years gone by when the existence of problem gambling was disputed, today there is little disagreement. There is a wealth of evidence of the destruction caused by out-of-control gambling. There have been numerous case studies, members of Gamblers Anonymous participating in sociological surveys, and interviews with other individuals that chronicle the debts, outright theft, deceit, violence, failed relationships, depression, and even suicidal thoughts of those trapped in their gambling addiction. This says nothing of the crime, drugs, prostitution, sex trafficking, etc. that accompanies casino gambling wreaking havoc in the communities where the casinos operate. 
Gambling is an exploitive business. There is a very good reason behind the commercial gambling industry’s desire to have their businesses referred to as the “gaming” industry rather than gambling industry. The fact is that gambling is not merely entertainment. It is an activity that drains financial resources from the economy, leads people into addiction, oppresses the poor, and ultimately undermines biblical principles for living the Christian life. 
Using casino gambling to fund education places the state in a difficult position. If gambling revenues decline, the state must either cut spending on education, find another funding source, or assist casinos in returning revenues to their previous levels. If additional revenues for education are desired, taxes on casinos will need to be increased, business at existing casinos increased thereby increasing tax revenues, or additional gambling licenses sold. In the case of the latter, this would likely happen in other parts of the state inflicting all of the above mentioned societal ills upon other communities. 
Declining participation rates in the gambling industry are driving casino owners to seek new markets and paint a much rosier picture than experience many other parts of the country have experienced when their new so-called “destination resorts” opened for business. Senate Bill 79 is bad for Georgia. Sen. Black, I urge you to reconsider your support of this proposed legislation. There are much better ways to create jobs and to raise funding for education than by legalizing immorality. 
May God grant you wisdom on this and the many other issues you and your colleagues will address during this session of the General Assembly.

Christopher Sanchez

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