http://www.morgancountycitizen.comBy Kathryn SchiliroAround 50 people were present at Madison’s Southern Cross Guest Ranch last Thursday to hear a presentation on the economic impact of horse racing in Georgia by Ed Gadrix, Atlanta-area attorney, Georgia Equine Education Project (GEEP) president and Bullet Breeze Racing Stable owner.The event, an “educational forum” that featured discussion by Gadrix followed by a question-and-answer session, was hosted by the Morgan County Area Horsemen’s Association, whose purpose involves education about and promotion of the horse industry in Morgan County and the surrounding area. The association is responsible for the county’s annual EquiFest event.The main focus of Gadrix’s organization, GEEP, is the education of elected officials and general public on horse racing. A non-partisan, 501(c)(6) organization, GEEP is currently working to pass legislation that would legalize the gaming industry associated with horse racing throughout the state.”Horse racing is legal [in Georgia] now,” Gadrix said. “What’s not legal is the pari-mutuel gaming part. You’ve got to have that [to make the horse racing industry viable].”(Other than Georgia, there are five states ‘“ South Carolina, Hawaii, Alaska, Utah and Tennessee ‘“ that don’t permit pari-mutuel gaming or casinos, according to Gadrix.)Gadrix compared pari-mutuel gaming to the stock market, as opposed to the lottery. In pari-mutuel gaming, participants are betting against each other, not the house. With gambling ‘“ like the lottery ‘“ there is no knowledge of facts, you are simply purchasing a ticket and hoping you get lucky; with pari-mutuel gaming, there are known facts and this information is (or should be) considered before a bet is placed.While there is no Georgia-specific research ‘“ the state declined a $20,000 report on the impact of horse racing by the D.C.-based American Horse Council, according to Gadrix ‘“ Gadrix cited Florida as having a $2.2 billion horse racing industry that, directly and indirectly, provided around 51,000 jobs. “More than mucking stalls,” Gadrix said, these jobs included everything from veterinary and equine insurance positions to advertising and public relations.”There’s a big, big industry here that Georgians have not grasped the magnitude of,” Gadrix said.To make the gaming that goes along with horse racing legal, two things must be passed: a constitutional amendment and enabling legislation.The constitutional amendment, which requires a two-thirds vote in the state House and Senate, isn’t a problem. According to an informal count in the House, GEEP had enough votes to pass this legislation; however, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston wanted to wait until next year, when elections weren’t looming, to move on the legislation. It will then be carried to the Senate, where Gadrix doesn’t expect any problems.It’s the enabling legislation, introduced last year and modeled after the State of Virginia’s similar legislation, that will be GEEP’s main hurdle.According to Gadrix, GEEP’s legislation provides for the creation of a Georgia Racing Commission ‘“ to be appointed by state elected officials, but supported by private funds ‘“ to maintain the horse racing and gaming industry. It would also require the state belong to the National Racing Compact, which promotes uniformity of rules and regulation in pari-mutuel horse racing.The GEEP legislation calls for racing year-round and includes all breeds of horses ‘“ thoroughbreds, quarter horses, painted horses, Arabians, Appaloosas, etc. ‘“ but will not apply to dog racing or casinos (there is a group, not to be confused with GEEP, introducing legislation on casinos in Georgia in the 2011 legislative session, Gadrix said).GEEP is also including a local option, which would allow local jurisdictions to decline affiliations with horse racing’s pari-mutuel gaming but would still allow for that jurisdiction to benefit from the funds raised by the state through pari-mutuel gaming.If the legislation needed makes it through the capitol and is approved by Georgia’s voters, Gadrix expects the horse-racing center of the state would become Atlanta. (Apparently, Churchill Downs, Inc. has considered a track in Atlanta due to its high-density area and the financial backing available, Gadrix said.) A state-of-the-art track may cost $200 million in private funds, Gadrix estimated.Radiating from Atlanta, there could be as many as 20 satellite facilities (like sports bars for horse racing where pari-mutuel gaming could take place) throughout the state where races would be simulcast. More than that ‘“ and this is where Morgan County comes in ‘“ there would be a need for breaking, training and breeding facilities statewide.Gadrix expects horse racing and pari-mutuel gaming in Georgia in three to four years, provided the legislation makes it through the capitol and voters’ ballots in 2012. He encouraged attendees to talk to their state legislators, local and state Chambers of Commerce and related organizations, as well as members of the public, about the legislation and its potential impact on the state’s economy.
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