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Horse racing in Georgia is a winning proposition

The nightmare has lasted long enough. Now it’s time to dream - big - about spurring Georgia’s economy and adding jobs.
Georgia is perfectly located on the Eastern seaboard for horse racing. Now, here’s a dream that could become reality and spawn thousands of jobs, providing millions in new tax revenue. To make that work, we’d have to legalize pari-mutuel wagering.
Other than opening the doors to my business, I don’t gamble. But I have been to Kentucky’s Keeneland horse track. It’s electric - the competition, and the crowd. You don’t have to wager to see that horse racing is big business.
We can draw some of those dollars here. With horse-racing states like Florida to the south and Kentucky, Maryland and New York to the north, estimates indicate 170,000 horses travel through Georgia on the way to race in the Sunshine State. Imagine the possibilities flowing up and down I-75 and I-95.
Are you dreaming yet? I see three or four major horse-racing facilities in Georgia: Atlanta, Perry, Valdosta and Brunswick. Let’s imagine a little: There’s Brunswick, with I-95 feeding the Golden Isles. Savannah and Hilton Head are just up the road. Horse racing could be one more magnet to pull tourists and revenue off the interstate highway.
Beyond the horseflesh, think about the restaurants, motels and tourism-related jobs that would follow. And then there’s construction of horse farms and training facilities that would mean more jobs and improved tax revenues.
Dr. Stephen Fisch, president of the Florida Quarter Horse Racing Association, asserts that “each horse on a racetrack creates seven jobs.” He explained to a recent study group, “The average horse meet would have 800 to 1,000 horses ... creating 7,000 jobs per meet.” Thirty-eight states have legalized horse racing and pari-mutuel betting. Reports show the combined economic impact is $39 billion.
When Gov. Zell Miller said Georgia would have a state-run lottery, I snickered. But thanks to Zell’s dream, we’ve seen how those lottery billions, through the HOPE college scholarship and a pre-kindergarten program, have benefited our citizens.
The upside of horse racing and wagering is new dollars to supplement scholarship programs and other critical needs like trauma care. Balancing the budget and erasing the deficit are not only about slashing expenditures. It’s just as much about finding new resources. Our geography and transportation infrastructure are ideal to support horse racing.
But there’s the downside, too. Gambling is addictive for some, but I imagine those people will find plenty of other outlets for their weakness, with or without horse racing. Still, we shouldn’t ignore the problem. A portion of the state’s profits could be earmarked for counseling and aid.
A movement is afoot in the 2011 General Assembly to get this issue before Georgia voters. I think this is a dream that can be one step toward erasing the economic nightmare.
I’m not enthusiastic about opening the door to pari-mutuel gambling. But I’ll give horse racing, as a much-needed boost to Georgia’s economy, 4-to-1 odds - good over bad.

Dink NeSmith is president of Community Newspapers Inc. in Athens. Send e-mail to dnesmith@cninewspapers.com. This column was printed in the Athens Banner-Herald.