State Rep. Rusty Kidd trying to help rural hospitals through casino gambling
State Representative Ron Stephens introduced the latest attempt to bring casinos to Georgia last legislative session. It was assigned to a committee in March. It will carry over into this session. House Bill 677 wants to take the revenue from these resorts and put it toward education, but Kidd has another idea for the money.
“The money [could] go toward hospitals. Specifically, healthcare in rural areas,” said Kidd.
HB 677 wants to put a limited number of licensed casino resorts in Georgia. The bill divides the state into five districts and would allow one casino in each district. The Atlanta area could have two.
“We don’t need six casinos in the state. I think I’d rather see one, initially, and make sure there’s no bugs in it. After two or three years then approve another one,” explained Kidd.
HB 677 takes the money from regulating, taxing and licensing these casinos and puts it toward the HOPE scholarship, but Kidd wants to use the money to help rural hospitals.
“One of the biggest things facing Middle Georgia is the closure of rural hospitals. Eight hospitals have closed in the last couple of years and three or four more are scheduled to close this year,” said Kidd.
He said hospital closures have a big impact on rural counties.
“If a county loses its hospital, that county will never get any industry. You can just write it off the map. In a lot of cases, the local hospital is the economic engine for that county,” explained Kidd.
Kidd’s idea is a way to avoid increasing property taxes. He estimates a profit of one billion dollars a year from one casino in the metro area.
“Here we have a new opportunity to create a new source of funds, a very large source of new funds, and it could go to rural healthcare or healthcare in Georgia,” said Kidd.
He said the idea is gaining traction among other State lawmakers.
“When I left the stage from presenting my case, one of the senators that was on the committee [said] Rusty, you’re right on target,” recalled Kidd.
Kidd added he and Representative Stephens have talked about the idea. They may come to an agreement that splits the money between healthcare and education.
HB 677 has been assigned to the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee. No hearing has been scheduled yet. If the bill passes, Georgians will get to vote in November whether to allow casinos in the state.