Can you imagine going to watch horse races at Augusta Downs? The members of the Georgia-South Carolina Horse Racing Committee can, and they do. In fact, this year, it looks as if they might be a step closer to realizing their horse-racing dreams. The group, which is based in Augusta, has been working for about 18 years to get parimutuel betting and horse racing legalized in the state. The main obstacle is a provision in the Georgia constitution that prohibits any type of gaming except for the state lottery. On Tuesday, January 26, Representative Henry Geisinger (R) introduced HR 1177 into the Georgia House of Representatives, a bill that would remove the block on gaming in the state. Since allowing gambling would alter the state constitution, changing the law requires passage by two thirds of the lawmakers as well as the approval of the voters in the November elections.
Arthur Anderson, who works with the Georgia-South Carolina horse racing group, says that members were surprised and pleased that the bill entered the house with 50 co-sponsors, which would seem to be a good sign. According to Anderson, the main reason that Georgia lawmakers might be eager to legalize horse racing is economic.
“Georgia is looking at tax deficits of two billion dollars over the next few years,” he says. “Representative Geisinger chaired a committee in October that showed how much money horse racing could generate for the state. Our concept is to earmark those funds for education.”
Anderson says that the horse racing group would like to see four parimutuel tracks in Georgia, one near Augusta, one near Perry, one near Atlanta and a fourth somewhere in the western part of the state. If horse racing is legalized, there is already a consortium with a reported $50 million ready to start building tracks, barns and hotels.
The news that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the leader of Dubai, has purchased land in Aiken for a Thoroughbred training facility has certainly raised consciousness about the desirability of the area for racehorses. Arthur Anderson says that the horse racing lobby group would like to use this as a starting point for horse racing talks in South Carolina.
“We’ll start in Aiken, then go to Camden, then to Charleston,” he says.
Bruce McGhee, who owns McGhee’s Mile, the historic mile track for Standardbreds on Banks Mill Road, has been a part of the Georgia-South Carolina Horse Racing Committee for about a year. He is excited about the prospect of legalized racing in Georgia because he believes it would revitalize the area’s economy. He also thinks that horse racing would be a great thing for the community as a whole.
“Anyone who denies the magnificence of a racehorse doesn’t understand what racing is about,’ he says.
For more information about the Georgia-South Carolina Horse Racing Committee, go to the website www.gaschrc.org.