Ga. Senate passes Indian-casino veto

ATLANTA -- The General Assembly would be able to veto agreements that would allow Indian tribes to set up a casino in Georgia under an amendment passed by the Senate Tuesday.

Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, attached the amendment to a bill about contracts after his stand-alone bill bogged down in the House Judiciary Committee. The amendment is to a bill by Rep. Wendell Willard, chairman of the House Judiciary, applying a little leverage to him to either accept the amendment or let Ligon’s bill come out of his committee.

Ligon said if a tribe buys land in Georgia, then it could challenge in court the state’s law limiting gambling to a state-run lottery. If the tribe prevails, as some tribes have in other states, then it could operate its own gambling.

“If they were to win that argument, the state would be forced under federal law to enter into negotiations with the tribe,” he said.

His plan would require a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to ratify any agreement on gambling that a governor may negotiated with a tribe.

“Hopefully, we would be able to impose any conditions that we felt were important,” he said.

Sen. John Bulloch, R-Ochlocknee, backed Ligon’s idea because a Creek tribe in Quitman, Ga., in his district opposes other tribes moving to the state solely to create a casino, he said.

“If we want to allow that in this state, then we, the members of the General Assembly, need to be the ones making that decision,” he said.

Sen. Robert Brown, D-Macon, opposed the amendment, arguing that more gaming means more taxes for the state.

“If a bribe or some other way were found to bring additional gambling into the state, then we could place an additional tax on the gambling at whatever level we choose to do so,” he said.

The amendment, and the bill it is attached to, passed 43-6, nearly identical to the tally for Ligon’s stand-alone bill March 16. Now the House will have both to consider.

Since the House already passed Willard’s contract bill, it only has to agree to Ligon’s amendment. If not, then a conference committee of three senators and three representatives will hash out the differences.

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