Seabolt was among nine candidates running in a special election last year to fill the vacant District 28 state Senate seat. Although he finished back in the pack, he did use his platform to vigorously promote horse racing.
“Those of us who see the tremendous economic impact can’t understand why people of Georgia don’t have an opportunity to make this choice themselves,” Seabolt said. “The legislation would put it on a ballot as a referendum. During the process, it lets us have a real education program of the benefits.”
He said it has been an ongoing campaign for several years, and public opinion polling shows that 73 percent of Georgia residents favor it.
Seabolt is sending out e-mails and contacting people in person, asking them to attend a 1 p.m., Dec. 20, public hearing being held by state Sen. Jack Murphy in Room 450, Coverdell Legislative Office Building, near the State Capitol in Atlanta.
In July, voters in the Republican primary approved a nonbinding question asking whether they would support an expansion of gambling if the funds were earmarked for the education system. State Sen. Jack Murphy, a Republican, has proposed a referendum to legalize horse racing.
“Numbers do mean a lot to elected officials,” Seeabolt said in an e-mail message. “An endorsement from Sen. Murphy’s committee will have a very strong, positive impact on the Senate when they convene for the 2013 session.
“We feel we have stronger support in the Senate than the House,” Seabolt said. “There’s a House committee that’s been appointed to review it, but we’re having trouble getting it out of that committee.”
Seabolt, a former Carroll County School Board member, is advocating that the proceeds from horse racing be used for education, to relieve the burden on property taxpayers. He said the money could also be used to boost the HOPE scholarship fund so that it would be available for more students.
“We’re looking at the potential of a billion dollar per year industry in Georgia,” he said. “We’re looking at about 28,000 jobs it would create in the state.”
Thirty-eight states already have horse racing, including Florida, where it is a $2 billion business, and one track alone there makes about $96 million per year. Seabolt said many of the horse owners compete in races in the north during the spring and summer, then head south to Florida for winter races.
“They travel right through Georgia,” Seabolt said. “The Atlanta area has always been a good place for horse racing.”
In addition, Seabolt claims that the people who stage the annual Breeders Cup thoroughbred racing event at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., would like to bring that race to Georgia.
“That’s $58 million generated in three days,” he said.
Seabolt said there’s already a lot of horse industry in Georgia, but the owners have to take their animals to other states to race them.
“The Southeast has a very strong quarterhorse base of breeders,” he said. “They’re having to haul their horses to Arkansas to race. Why couldn’t Georgia be benefitting from that?”
He said some people have expressed concern that horse racing, as a new form of gambling, could hurt state lottery sales. However, he countered that they are two different forms of gambling that attract different people. He said lottery tickets are bought more often by low-income populations while horse racing appeals to higher income groups.
“Racing is more a family thing,” he said. “Some people go to the track and never even wager. They go for the excitement and entertainment.”
In addition to the direct tax proceeds from the track, Seabolt said the industry would bring in tourism money and increase the sales of related horse equipment, feed, seed and hay.
In the last General Assembly session, a bipartisan group of legislators proposed a constitutional amendment to legalize wagering on horse races, but the legislation never made it out of committee for a vote. Senate Resolution 1025 would have amended the state constitution to allow pari-mutual wagering and would also have allowed betting on races at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, where the equestrian games were held during the 1996 Olympics. It would have required a two-thirds majority to pass. A similar House bill languished in committee.
The legislation that Seabolt is backing this year would not be a constitutional amendment, but would ask that the issue be put before voters on a referendum ballot. It would not require a two-thirds majority or the governor’s signature.
“If passed, we would have a racing commission set up and it would decide where tracks would be located,” he said. “But there’s no sense discussing that now until we get it on the ballot. If they (legislators) allow it to be put on a ballot, I’m confident that enough support will be out there to overwhelmingly approve it.”
However, the road to passage could be rough through a conservative House and Gov. Nathan Deal, who has in the past, opposed efforts to expand gambling in the state.
District 69 State Rep. Randy Nix, R-LaGrange, probably expresses the feelings of many House members.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Nix said Thursday. “In my opinion, gambling always brings more problems than it solves. Horse racing tracks around the country have struggled. Most have had to bring in casino gambling to stay open.”
District 68 State Rep. Dustin Hightower, R-Carrollton, said horse racing facilities around the country have trouble supporting themselves, and it will be a “tough sale” to get it approved in Georgia.
“When you look at the numbers, there’s been only one horse racing facility in the country that has been supporting itself,” Hightower said. “All the others, including the ones in Kentucky, have gone to the states with their hands out, needing assistance to stay afloat, or have gone to their state legislatures to get money to keep going.”
Nevertheless, Seabolt said he is ready to take on what could be an uphill battle because he feels the economic benefits would be tremendous.
“I will go to any civic organization to carry the message,” he pledged. “All we’re asking is that it be put on a statewide referendum. Go ahead and let the people decide on it.”
Seabolt wants people interesting in helping to contact him at 770-854-8107 or 770-757-5323, or by e-mail at email@example.com. The website of the Georgia Equine Education Project, a group promoting horse racing, is www.geepforgeorgia.com.