As August approaches, the governor’s office and top legislative leaders will begin to put into place their key priorities for the 2018 legislative session. Chief among those will be matters related to preserving the HOPE Scholarship and augmenting it through a potential vote by Georgians on the creation of “destination resorts” for casino gambling.
During the 2017 legislative session lawmakers grappled with both issues. Proposals were set forth to attempt to gradually increase required levels of funding for the HOPE Scholarship. The Georgia Lottery Corporation is noted for being one of the most successful in the nation and for returning substantial amounts back to a special scholarship/pre-K account created during the first term of then-Gov. Zell Miller.
Last spring the legislation died in the House primarily due to concerns that a cut into prize money paid out to players (which was about $2.74 billion during the past fiscal year) could have disastrous results in coming years. It would leave the education programs with a higher percentage of lower ticket sales.
Along those lines, we learn this summer that Gov. Nathan Deal is likely to okay any referendum to be voted on by Georgians in the 2018 election cycle on a limited number of “destination resort” locations. That’s where entertainment and casino gaming could provide an additional, ongoing stream of revenue to either augment the HOPE Scholarship or perhaps expand its current level of recipients. A high-level official from the Deal administration reportedly made these plans known at a meeting of top representatives of major businesses at an annual meeting held in June.
Much like Miller’s initial proposed vote to create a lottery, which many credit with his strong victory in the 1990 gubernatorial contest, the concept of casino gaming in Georgia was met with initial skepticism. But polling by major news organizations over the past few years reveals a majority of Georgians favoring the idea and an even larger majority wanting the right to vote on the matter.
Meanwhile, supporters of a lottery mandate on increased funding for the HOPE Scholarship plan to return with their proposal again in 2018. Those efforts, as mentioned, will again face tight scrutiny when it comes to having legislators, rather than professional lottery experts, mandating the marketing and selling of tickets.
At the same time, with Governor Deal having already expressed his willingness not to oppose a referendum on limited casino gaming in Georgia– which came only after demanding a higher return to the state in revenue from any potential gaming– a decision to place it on his official agenda is reportedly on its way. But don’t expect any confirmations from administration or legislative leaders. The August/September time frame is known for quiet working and planning— and little in the way of public statements.