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Lawmakers say they haven't made decision on casino gambling
Lee Hawkins
State Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville

Two members of the Hall County legislative delegation aren’t yet ready to voice a definitive opinion on another attempt by Georgia lawmakers to seek legislation that would pave the way for casino gambling.

Identical bills to be introduced this week in the House and Senate would open the door to Georgia allowing two “resort destinations” where casino gambling could also take place. A portion of a state tax on the gambling revenue would go toward creating a new needs-based college scholarship, and another portion of the tax would go toward bolstering the existing merit-based Hope Scholarship program offered by the state.

State Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gillsville, told The Times on Wednesday that 80 percent of his constituents are opposed to casino gambling, and that for him to support it, he would have to be convinced that the legislation is “good for the state and good for his district.”

However, Dunahoo said he would “be open-minded,” wait for the bill to be vetted in the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee and hear from those who are in favor or opposed to the bill.

“They elect me to make that decision,” Dunahoo said. “We will look at it.”

Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, admitted that the issue could be “controversial with some folks” and that some of his constituents are opposed to the idea and some are in favor.

“This gets down to a personal issue for many people,” Hawkins said. “When you deal with these types of issues, and it’s plausible to put it in a referendum, we should do that. Let the people decide the issues.”

Hawkins and Dunahoo agreed there’s merit to the bill’s objective of funneling tax revenues toward scholarship programs.

As the demand for Hope Scholarships by students increase, it puts more financial pressure on funding it, according to Hawkins. Profits from the Georgia Lottery go to pay for educational programs, including Hope Scholarships and Georgia’s pre-K program.

“We have had problems funding Hope Scholarships,” Hawkins said.

Dunahoo said that from what he’s heard about the “resort destination” concept, these resorts would have theaters and family-friendly activities that also would include an area for adults to gamble if they so wish to. He said there would be nothing sleazy about them.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who’s been critical of previous attempts to introduce casinos into the state, indicated Tuesday he’s willing to “keep the discussion going.”

Deal, a Republican, added that a constitutional amendment to be proposed by supporters, which would eliminate a prohibition on casinos, doesn’t need his signature to get a statewide vote. However, Deal would have to sign into law any legislation passed by the House and Senate that regulates casino licensing, taxes and other details.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.