Conservatives fear gambling vote heralds culture shift

By Greg Bluestein The Atlanta Journal-Constitution It began with a wave of Georgia communities…

Georgia (Aug 6, 2012) — By Greg Bluestein


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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

It began with a wave of Georgia communities approving Sunday alcohol sales over the past year. That's when the Georgia Christian Coalition first began worrying the state was on the cusp of a cultural shift. 

Then last Tuesday's vote may have confirmed it. A narrow majority of the state's Republican voters voiced support what was once unthinkable: Casino gambling.

"One of us is out of step. Either it's the Christian Coalition or the folks that do the voting," said Jerry Luquire, the group's president. He's resigned to the belief that he's on the losing side of that equation. "The public had a chance to speak. And the results speak for themselves."

The non-binding vote has left social conservatives and analysts puzzling over whether the surprising GOP show of support for casino gambling to fund education was a sign of a lasting shift or a fleeting blip on the radar. Far from the blowout that many expected, a slim majority of Republican voters answered "yes" to the question. 

Few expect the vote to erode the long-held opposition to gambling in the Legislature, and some credit the victory to the HOPE scholarship's financial woes. After Tuesday's vote, Gov. Nathan Deal said again he wouldn't support casinos in Georgia, and pointedly reminded it would take a much bigger margin — a two-thirds vote from legislators and then majority approval among all voters — to clear the way for full-fledged Las Vegas-style casinos to take root here.

"I think you will not see that happen," he said.

But the outcome, the first statewide question on gambling since voters approved the lottery in 1992, is the latest in a string of recent news that has buoyed gambling supporters. 

Developer Dan O'Leary has traveled the state investing time and treasure to build support for a $1 billion gambling resort featuring video lottery terminals. Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers became the highest-profile advocate of expanding gambling over the summer. And Deal endorsed online lottery ticket sales last month to bolster the cash-strapped HOPE scholarship. 

"When you have a Republican leader, Rogers, openly supporting a change like this, you know how the culture of the GOP is changing," said Kerwin Swint, a Kennesaw State University political scientist. 




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