Senator sponsors bill to block land sales for Indian casinos

ATLANTA -- Real estate developers in Glynn County and the Columbus area are the target of legislation designed to prevent them from selling property to Indian tribes that want to build casinos, according to Sen. William Ligon.

The freshman Republican from Brunswick explained Senate Bill 62 Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“What we’re trying to do is allow the state to have some voice over its property,” he said.

The bill would give the legislature the right to nullify land sales to tribes if the Indians petition the federal government for sovereignty. Under federal law, tribes can gain status as separate, self-governing nations within the boundaries of the United States. Some tribal laws permit the gambling.

Ligon declined to identify the developers or specify where the property is they are trying to sell. Nor would he mention which tribes are considering it.

His legislation is likely to win support from both gambling opponents and advocates of expanding the types of gambling the state benefits from. The Georgia Lottery Corporation conducts games that fund the Pre-K Program and the HOPE Scholarship, and some groups want the corporation to put those games on video terminals that could be installed in privately run casinos.

Other groups are pushing a constitutional amendment to allow betting on horse races, with the Lottery Corporation getting a share of the take. Most race tracks need casinos to be viable, according to racing experts.

All of the groups have expressed concern that too many gambling options would leave all of them struggling.

Ligon’s bill only got a hearing in committee because Chairman Bill Hamrick, R-Carrollton, wants to get input from the State Bar about its legal ramifications.

Ligon said no other state has tried such a law so there are no court cases to establish how judges might interpret it.

Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, expressed his own reservations during Wednesday’s meeting.

“I just have concerns or wonder about the constitutionality,” he said.

The U.S. Constitution lays the foundation for the federal government’s relationship with the Indian nations. And federal law trumps state law.

Ligon argued that the state legislature should get a say, by two-thirds vote, whether part of its land can become part of another country.

“It’s almost like someone said ‘we’re going to give a piece of land to Switzerland.’ ... Before that happens, I think the General Assembly should have a say,” Ligon said.

Actually, the Swiss already do own a part of Georgia where their consulate is in Atlanta and the home of their consul general. More than 50 countries have consulates in Georgia.

No time has been set for further consideration of SB 62. It would have to win approval by the committee and the Rules Committee before going to the full Senate for a vote.







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