How a strong Sunday sales vote could encourage gaming proponents

About that small rumble you heard on Wednesday. Possibly it was the earthquake that had its epicenter up in Dalton.

But allow yourself only a dash of imagination, and it could just as easily been the thunder of horses’ hooves cutting a circle of turf for a grandstand of bettors.

The overwhelming success of 127 measures in 127 communities to permit the Sunday retail sale of alcohol on Tuesday was the punctuation mark on a major cultural – and political – shift in Georgia. People already wonder what might come next.

According to a list compiled by the Georgia Food Industry Association, 105 of the referendums passed – an 82 percent success rate. Two-thirds of more than 266,000 Georgians who cast ballots approved of the concept of a Sunday purchase of a six-pack from a grocery store.

Houston County is home to a teetotaling Sonny Perdue, who blocked Sunday sales legislation during his two terms. On Tuesday, his neighbors in the cities of Perry and Warner Robins contradicted the former governor.

The city of Decatur registered the highest level of approval – 91 percent of voters approved.

As a rule, politicians are fascinated by the possibilities that lie within such large, overwhelming margins. These margins in particular.

“What is interesting is that there was essentially no organized opposition to it,” said Tom Perdue, a Republican strategist. “And that would lead me to think that some members of the General Assembly, looking for new revenue, might now look at the lottery in a new light.”

Only last month, the board that governs the Georgia Lottery Corporation released a study that broached the forbidden topic of casino gambling. Gov. Nathan Deal and other Capitol leaders quickly shot it down.

But the fight over Sunday sales was a drawn-out, multiyear campaign. Backers patiently funded lobbyists year after year. Possibly, they have blazed a trail for gaming and horse-track enthusiasts.

“Since the lottery board seems to have the authority to do video poker, casino-type operations – maybe the Legislature will look at the revenue source now in light of a local-option vote on this,” Perdue said.

The decision by the General Assembly to address Sunday sales as a community-choice issue was a fateful one for supporters of the state’s last major blue law.

The Rev. Ray Newman works on public policy issues for the Georgia Baptist Convention and is a registered lobbyist at the state Capitol. Newman says Tuesday’s vote is no evidence of waning clout by conservative Christians in Georgia – simply because religious conservatives chose not to contest the measures.

But one reason that Christian forces found themselves befuddled was the fact of 127 disparate contests across the state. Opposition couldn’t be coordinated. “Me just being one person, I couldn’t run into 127 different places and do that kind of thing,” Newman said. “Had this been a statewide referendum, we would have had a better chance of making a statement or saying something about it.”

Newman has already begun work on blocking a pari-mutuel bill now in the Legislature – which would permit horse-racing in Georgia. The measure has been the subject of recent hearings.

The Georgia Baptist representative doesn’t foresee any immediate success for gambling legislation, though he concedes that religious conservatives have found themselves in disarray recently. Sadie Fields of the Georgia Christian Alliance is in retirement – and no group or individual has risen to take her place.

Newman has done his part, but since he represents a religious denomination, he doesn’t take part in the hardball games at the state Capitol, which can include sharp elbows and somewhat personal attacks.

But the Baptist lobbyist also concedes that the state is changing. The fight over gay marriage in 2004 was the high-water mark for religious conservatives in Georgia. Pulpits were engaged across the state.

“Unfortunately, this issue just didn’t generate that same kind of passion,” he said.

Days before the Sunday sales vote, the Rev. Barry McCarty, pastor of Peachtree Christian Church in Midtown, explained to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter why he wasn’t rallying his congregation against the measure in Atlanta.

Drunkenness is a sin, he said. Drinking isn’t. That’s a point of view that didn’t have much of a place in Georgia pulpits 30 years ago.

“I do believe that Georgia is beginning to see the cultural change that occurs when you get so many people coming from so many parts of the world,” Newman said.

Here’s one small measure to noodle over: North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, all have relatively small numbers of Catholics. Georgia’s population – because of decades of migration from the north – now stands at 12 percent, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Abortion and gay marriage mean as much to Catholics as to Baptists or Methodists. But drinking and gambling do not. Never mind the growing ranks of the unchurched.

Tom Perdue, the Republican strategist, once served as chief of staff for Gov. Joe Frank Harris, a Methodist famous for banning alcohol from the Governor’s Mansion in the 1980s. But Perdue, an active church-goer, can see changing times, too.

“If you and I took our spouses to dinner, and if I were buying dinner, I would ask you if you’d like a glass of wine,” Tom Perdue said. Again, that’s something that, socially, probably wouldn’t have happened in the 1980s.

When it comes to sin and politics, Perdue said, people don’t quite grasp what a major political and cultural watershed the establishment of a lottery for the HOPE scholarship turned out to be.

“In some sense, it’s hypocritical to say you oppose gambling, but you support the lottery. The lottery is gambling, and the lottery is advertised by the state, and it sends thousands upon thousands of young people to college,” he said.

Tuesday’s vote means there will be no repercussion for state lawmakers who supported the extension of Sunday sales of alcohol to retail establishments. Which, Perdue underlined, means it may also remove “the fear factor” when it comes to pushing the limits on the lottery in Georgia.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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33 comments Add your comment

Tony

November 9th, 2011
8:17 pm

With the economy hurting, we need to look at any possible measures to create jobs and improve the economy. We may need to move into the 21st century to accomplish those things.

jim

November 9th, 2011
8:51 pm

Gov. Deal should take a visit to our neighbors in Al., Miss., and N.C. and look at the car tags in their casino parking lots and see all the Ga. plates, then he might get an idea of how much tax money is leaving the state.

Patsylou

November 9th, 2011
9:17 pm

Agree with Jim…..

Rock me like a Herman Cain

November 9th, 2011
9:27 pm

Roll them bones

Since our GOP leaders like to gamble on real estate with other peoples money (hello Rogers, Graves, Deal & Perdue) how can they really be against a friendly game of chance?

Raymond Lee

November 9th, 2011
9:37 pm

The fix is in. There is NO WAY the Georgia Lottery had that study done on the estimated impacts of developing three casinos in this state, without Deal’s blessing. Per AJC aritcles, there are obviously competing interests on who will control and limit the overall development and how it will be introduced. Horse racing plays into it, as well as the plans of the Cherokee tribe up near Lake Lanier, formally recognized by the state, but not by the feds, yet. The City of Atlanta has an interest in two locations, at least, one including their land up in Dawson County, next to the planned reservoir. All the land speculators are tripping all over themselves up there in north Georgia, including Mayor Cox of the City of Dawsonville. He dreams of building a commercial airport on the Elliott property, his people annexed into his itty bitty city. Cox even had the state legislators vote on giving him an airport authority, with wild powers to raise bond money, and eminent domain to take land. One house had passed it, but the Senate put it on hold, as it is not exactly a “local” issue. Can you imagine a city of 600 voters having control over the development of a huge project that impacts so many counties up there? Well multiply those issues, by the numbers of counties and cities that want their own casino, and you can imagine all the back door deals being done right now.

hsn

November 9th, 2011
9:39 pm

Jim –

This is a no-brainer. If the governor doesn’t like gambling, why is the GA Lottery Corporation still in business?
Recent studies have shown that allowing casinos to flourish in the state will increase revenue dramatically. Why not give the people a chance to decide whether they would like casinos or not? I think it should be on the ballot asap.
If the Republicans claim they are for limited government, then they should stay the hell out of telling us whether we can gamble, buy alcohol, have sex with who and what time, etc. They are a bunch of jokers !!!

Diehard

November 9th, 2011
9:51 pm

Who the hell cares what Tom Perdue thinks? He’s the same GOP strategist that said Nathan Deal should withdraw as the GOP nominee . . .

LD

November 9th, 2011
9:54 pm

If someone is dullwitted enough to gamble and believe they can actually end w/a net win, my sympathy is limited to their minor dependents who will go w/o necessities.

The private/gaming-casino industry will, at least, attract those “upper middle class” w/more $ while those w/very little $ that now spend a few dollars each week on the state lottery will be less able to afford the amenities and may pass because of a lack of sufficient $ to pay the ‘price of admission’. It will be interesting to see if the taxes from private gaming are earmarked for education as it and the recession/depression put the state lottery out of business.

double

November 9th, 2011
10:01 pm

Would other taxes be cut if casinos were allowed,or just giving the government more to waste?Just another way to transfer the wealth.

Chuck Allison

November 9th, 2011
10:35 pm

Sure, now that we are selling liquor 7 days a week and filling TV and the theatres with pornography, the next logical steps are to make more forms of gambling legal, then to legalize prostitution and cocaine. The way to reduce crime is to just make it legal. Does anyone think that our moral free fall is not enabled by all of this legislative support of immorality?

henry delamar clayton

November 9th, 2011
11:00 pm

Has Sonny put the trucking company on the market yet? Look for the abandoment of the Savannah Port project, as the confidence men shift their focus to easier pickings. Could Dawsonville’s new moniker be “The Hillbilly Las Vegas”?

Gaming?

November 9th, 2011
11:50 pm

Call it what it is: gambling.

Tim

November 10th, 2011
12:10 am

I’m still pissed that Dekalb County did not have Sunday sales on the ballot. All of the cities in Dekalb voted in favor of Sunday alcohol, but if you live in unincorporated Dekalb you don’t have it. I just assumed it was on the ballot, but the only thing on my ballot was the SPLOST. Why would they have an election with just the SPLOST on the ballot? Why not include the Sunday alcohol?

These same commissioners hiked our taxes by 26% this year. They said we needed revenue. They had a chance to get new revenue, and they don’t even put Sunday alcohol on the ballot. Dekalb County should have been the first county to put it on the ballot. The most progressive county in the state, AND WE HAVE TO WAIT?!!! This is BS, these commissioners suck!

Joe Wilson

November 10th, 2011
12:16 am

Wow! Jack Abramoff, who was convicted of fraud, just said that Ralph Reed was paid $4 million to get get Christian groups to lobby against gambling. His clients were one Indian tribe trying to prevent another from setting up competing gambling casinos. Little Ralphy Reed should have went to jail with Abramoff and he is far more corrupt than Abramoff. He tries to impose his moral agenda on America and make millions off Christians. Reed set up the Values Voters Summit this year in which almost all Republican Presidential candidates came to kiss his corrupt behind!

Google Sales News 10/11/2011

November 10th, 2011
4:09 am

[...] in favor of Sunday sales, …Georgians vote in favor of Sunday alcohol salesWashington PostHow a strong Sunday sales vote could encourage gaming proponentsAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Sunday liquor sales fail in 21 Georgia cities and [...]

Buckhead Boy

November 10th, 2011
5:31 am

Pari-mutuel and casino wagering may now be more debatable, but that debate will assuredly line the pockets of the lobbyists and politicians more than any outcome can benefit the commonweal. This is not a statement in opposition. Its just a statement of fact.

Elmer Gantry

November 10th, 2011
6:56 am

I simply cannot believe it, first the populace will be getting “sloshed” seven days a week, then betting on horse races and finally casino gambling. Why, the devil will have a “Georgia zipcode.”
Now the plantation owners will be able to sell their fields to the Casino Barons for zillions of dollars.
Demon rum, horse racing and river boat gambling, is there a river in Georgia?

Well, with global warming and nuclear proliferation, hell and damnation will certainly be warm enough.

seabeau

November 10th, 2011
7:18 am

We all know that alcohol is a major public health issue. We should not be expanding its use but curtailing it. We opponents of alcohol need to use the same approach that was sucessful in the fight against Big Tobacco to stop alcohols deadly scourge in our society.

findog

November 10th, 2011
8:11 am

Quit calling them casinos. Georgia will do the way it does everything, half-hearted and on the cheap. When I say casino I am talking about Las Vegas, real games, real entertainment. When those who want to bring it to Georgia say casino they want warehouses full of video machine, a sad step up from a large bingo palace.
So let’s set some basic verbiage for debate:
ca•si•no -a building or large room used for meetings, entertainment, dancing, etc., especially such a place equipped with gambling devices, gambling tables, etc.
Bingo Hall – In the US, the game is primarily staged by churches or charity organizations

honested

November 10th, 2011
8:12 am

Wow, king sonny had put his personal preference over the will of his neighbors.

Whodathunkit!

Think of where GA might be today if he had considered the interests of Georgians over the interests of his family and friends.

Tom E. Gunn

November 10th, 2011
8:15 am

The bottom line is let us vote! The Legislature REFUSED for YEARS to even allow a vote on the lottery, and when Gov. Miller, forced the issue in equally tough ecomonic times, it passed handily. I cannot see why SOME peole think they should protect us from ourselves.

Morrus

November 10th, 2011
8:42 am

the alcohol vote makes it very clear that “separation of church and state” was no where to be found in the governing of Perdue and his Christian Coalition minions. GA is joining the 21st century, very slowly.

cartoon

November 10th, 2011
8:51 am

What Abbot and Costello could have written with a topic like this. OMG!!!!

cartoon

November 10th, 2011
9:01 am

Over at Bookman, he just couldn’t resist the urge to pile on one of the greatest influences in sports in the last fifty years. First, he misses the point. It’s a societal problem. America truly is the great satan, but so is the rest of the f’n world. We are a bunch of sick Fockers. Our culture did this. We let anyone say or do or display any message or image no matter how offensive it is. That Bookman is allowed near a keyboard is offensive, but in a different way. However his journalism and his ilk’s point of view, that is, all the other writers he hacks from, are all the aiding and abbetting that this crime needs.

Bookman belongs behind bars along with the rest of them.

Madison

November 10th, 2011
9:21 am

Approve casinos and put the money in HOPE. Restructure public college education to prevent tuition money to from being spent on research. Make college no more expensive than high school. Require college graduates who accept HOPE to give 12 months of public service in mental health treatment facilities and homes for the aging which will also be subsidized by the casinos and a percentage of the alcohol tax.
Now over two to three generations, the funding of college and even the health facilities will have to come from other sources, because our smarter, more educated society will know that drinking and gambling are not particularly good life choices. But with an educated populace we might be able to choose legislators who have our interest (rather than their own) as a priority.

R

November 10th, 2011
9:28 am

For the record, Jim, Decatur is not exactly indicative of the values of the rest of the state — a very blue dot in a vast red sea.

SlipKnot

November 10th, 2011
9:29 am

Car(buf)toon writes: “that Bookman is allowed near a keyboard is offensive, but in a different way”

That this poster is allowed near a keyboard is more offensive and in every way.

Danny O

November 10th, 2011
10:24 am

If we look at allowing gaming, we should look the skill-based game of poker, and not mind-numbing slots. Poker has gone from a game mostly played at kitchen tables around the country to a multi-billion dollar, worldwide industry. Large tournaments attract players from all over the world. What’s more, it employs one dealer for every nine players.

This weekend and next, a bunch of folks from Georgia will be in Jacksonville to participate in a World Poker Tour Regional event. In addition to playing cards, they will be staying in Florida hotels, eating at Florida restaurants, and filling up at Florida gas stations.

A lot of folks in Georgia do not want casinos filled up with social security recipients dropping their last quarters into loud slot machines. Poker only attracts those individuals who are willing to learn the game. I say we should take a look at Florida. They do not have casinos: they only have horse and dog racing, jai-alai, and poker. It’s a much more palatable way to keep gaming dollars here in our state.

BILLY MAYS HERE

November 10th, 2011
4:44 pm

Going to church drunk is the only way to make it interesting

Madison

November 10th, 2011
4:53 pm

Danny O makes a good case. But consider the Mississippi model. Only allow casinos on waters navigable from the ocean. Then we could have casinos in maybe Savannah, Jekyll and Columbus.

SlipKnot

November 10th, 2011
4:56 pm

BM Here: Might have your spirits confused.

BILLY MAYS HERE

November 10th, 2011
4:59 pm

Madison

November 10th, 2011
4:53 pm

Danny O makes a good case. But consider the Mississippi model. Only allow casinos on waters navigable from the ocean. Then we could have casinos in maybe Savannah, Jekyll and Columbus.

Gahahaha…. I guess they feel that if the casino can be pushed out to sea quickly during the Rapture, God won’t notice

muddy waters

November 11th, 2011
12:59 am

Tom E. Gunn writes, ” I cannot see why SOME peole think they should protect us from ourselves.”

Idn’t the answer to that as obvious as the nose on your face?

Left to our own devices, look who we elect!’

We NEED protection from ourselves,