ATLANTA - Democratic gubernatorial candidate Thurbert Baker said Wednesday he wants to bring electronic bingo to Georgia to help raise more money for the state's cash-strapped schools.
Baker, the state's attorney general, said the additional funds could "transform education in Georgia forever." He calculates that in a decade the proceeds would total $2 billion a year and the money would be dedicated to education, allowing Georgia to extend the school year, make kindergarten mandatory and hire thousands of new teachers.
The bingo initiative would be run through the Georgia Lottery. Legalizing bingo would need a constitutional amendment, meaning it must pass both chambers of the state Legislature with a two-thirds vote. That's a tall order in a Republican-led General Assembly where antigambling forces hold considerable sway.
"To those who say it can't be done, that is what they said about the lottery and the HOPE scholarship," Baker said at a state Capitol news conference Wednesday.
As an assistant floor leader for then-Gov. Zell Miller, Baker helped push Georgia's lottery through the Legislature in 1991.
Baker noted on Wednesday that bingo is already legal for charities in Georgia.
But in neighboring Alabama, electronic bingo games have been a source of controversy and the state's governor has been trying to shut them down.
Baker is in a seven-way race for the Democratic nomination for governor in Georgia.
Front-runner Roy Barnes said he Wednesday he's open to the idea.
"If the idea has merit and public support and the funds will be dedicated to public education, the state should consider it," the former governor said.
But former Georgia National Guard Commander David Poythress didn't like the proposal, arguing a lack of funds wasn't the only thing ailing the state's schools.
"The last thing we ought to be talking about right now is creating a government bureaucracy to regulate another legalized gambling operation," Poythress said.
Poythress also said he thought bingo in Georgia would deliver far less than what Baker was promising.
House Minority Leader DuBose Porter said state-run bingo would compete with a number of nonprofit groups who use bingo for fundraising.
"My plan of going after the cheaters who don't send in the state's portion of sales taxes would be a more sustainable and reliable source for funding education," he said.
Baker unveiled the proposal at the state Capitol and planned stops in Albany, Savannah and Macon on Wednesday to promote the initiative.
The state's primary is July 20.