What do I need to know about Horse Racing in Georgia?
Man has been racing horses ever since the first human swung a leg over a wild horse’s back. And people have always bet on who would cross the finish line first. Now Georgia has a chance to be a winner in terms of new tax revenues and jobs.
Georgia has a long tradition of horse racing, which is legal in our state. Each April, Georgia residents and visitors flock to the Atlanta Steeplechase near Rome and the Hawkinsville Harness Festival in South Georgia. Each event has taken place annually for almost 50 years, and the City of Hawkinsville owns the track and training facility where the harness racing takes place.
While Georgia does permit some forms of gaming, i.e. the lottery to raise funds for education, our current laws block pari-mutuel wagering, making the sport of horse racing unprofitable in Georgia. The state is not taking advantage of the tax revenues and employment opportunities that would be created by the horse-racing industry and pari-mutuel wagering.
What is Pari-Mutuel Wagering?
The concept of pari-mutuel originated in France in 1862. This system of betting creates a pool, and payoff odds are calculated by sharing the pool, after taxes, among all winning bets. These taxes are one way states benefit from pari-mutuel wagering.
In pari-mutuel wagering, the winnings depend on odds that reflect the popularity of each horse in a race. A racing fan wagers against other bettors, not the house as in many forms of casino gambling, which the Georgia Horse Racing Coalition does not support. Racing fans closely follow the sport and are as knowledgeable about the equine athletes, trainers and bloodlines as the baseball, football and basketball enthusiasts are who support teams like the Braves, Falcons and Hawks.
Pari-mutuel wagering is legal in 43 states, including our neighboring state of Florida, where the racing industry was expected to generate more than $28 million in taxes in 2011-2012.*
What will the proposed Legislation allow in Georiga?
The proposed legislation would allow Georgia voters to decide in a constitutional amendment whether to permit horse racing and pari-mutuel wagering. If this legislation is approved by the 2016 General Assembly, the amendment would appear on the ballot in the November General Election.
The legislation would permit all types of horse racing in Georgia, from Thoroughbred races like the Kentucky Derby and the Atlanta Steeplechase to racing for other breeds, including Standardbred trotting and pacing horses, American Quarter Horses, Arabians and others.
It would also permit pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing, which would be closely regulated by the state. The new law would establish a Georgia Racing Commission to manage the sport in a principled manner, like the Georgia Athletic and Entertainment Commission that oversees boxing and martial arts in our state. Members would establish strict rules and regulations governing the sport and its participants.
Like the legislation establishing the state lottery, this amendment will also ensure that a certain percentage of tax revenue from horse racing will be directed to areas when it will be most beneficial to the state, by the Legislature.
*Source: 2011 Florida Tax Handbook
Who Will Pay for the Track?
Unlike other sports, such as pro football, baseball or basketball, where taxpayers are expected to underwrite the costs of the arena or stadium, tracks in Georgia would be built by private investors. When pari-mutuel wagering is approved in Georgia, a group of racing enthusiasts stands ready to invest in a track in Atlanta that will rival classic racing facilities such as Churchill Downs, Keeneland and Gulfstream to bring racing to Georgia in the spring and the fall.