This year, he tried to raise interest by directing his efforts to state lawmakers, but his attempts produced no results. Three horse racing bills were pre-filed, but never made it through committees.
Now the Roopville entrepreneur plans to carry his message across the state, one civic club at a time. After speaking to the Friday noon meeting of the Carrollton Kiwanis Club, Seabolt said he’s looking for more speaking engagements.
“I feel I have to go all over the state to do this,” he told the audience. “It’s the only way to get the message started.”
Seabolt said public opinion polls show that about 73 percents of Georgia residents say they would like the issue put on the ballot for a public vote. When he asked that question of Friday’s audience, a substantial majority raised their hands.
However, one Kiwanis member was not so enthusiastic. Club President Mike Dugan represents District 30 in the state Senate and has indicated he’s not in favor of legalizing thoroughbred horse racing in Georgia. He declined to comment on the issue after Friday’s lunch.
When he was running for the Senate seat last October, he said in an interview with the Times-Georgian that, while he was opposed to casino gambling, he would listen to proposals for thoroughbred horse racing.
“Horse racing, I wouldn’t rule out,” Dugan said. “There would have to be some constraints on it, but I’m not one who would say ‘no.’”
However, in an interview shortly after taking office in January, Dugan said he was not in favor of the idea.
“People say that it brings money to your state, but what I’ve found is that it really does not,” Dugan said. “I looked at Alabama, Massachusetts and Michigan. Alabama later got rid of it because it never made any money. Massachusetts supplemented it through their budget until they brought in gambling machines, and I’m not ready to cross that bridge.”
The message Seabolt delivered Friday is that horse racing would be a big money-maker for Georgia.
“Florida made $2.2 billion last year (from thoroughbred racing) and it would bring $1 billion to Georgia in its first year,” he said. “The Breeders Cup wants to come to Georgia. It would bring $58 million in three days.”
Seabolt said horse racing would also create a “tremendous impact” on the state infrastructure, bringing sales and jobs for veterinarians, tack and feed businesses and hotels.
He also downplayed the arguments that the state would have to bail the industry out.
“I don’t know where that’s coming from,” Seabolt said. “I’m not aware of states bailing anyone out. These are private investments. If the state’s bailing people out, they can come bail me out.”
He said the Birmingham track experience always comes up in a discussion about horse racing.
“It didn’t have enough funding and could never attract big-money races,” he said. “There’s more people in Atlanta than the whole state of Alabama. We’re talking about big races like the Breeders Cup.”
Seabolt said several states have horse racing and are making money. He named Florida, New York, Kentucky, Texas, Louisiana, California, Maryland and West Virginia. He said horse owners traveling between races in New York and Florida pass through Georgia and could easily stop for competition.
Seabolt, a former chairman of the Carroll County Board of Education, said he’d like to see money from thoroughbred horse racing used for education. He compared its potential to the Georgia Lottery and money it has raised for Hope scholarships.
“One of the greatest things that ever happened to Georgia was the lottery and Hope scholarships,” he said. “The brightest kids are now staying in Georgia for their college education.”
He would like to see horse racing money used for “equity based education.” He said that is where funds are used to supplement school systems that have smaller tax digests and don’t get enough funding for teacher bonuses and other programs.
Seabolt said he’ll be satisfied just to get the issue on a ballot and let people decide.
“The way to get it on a ballot is to contact your representatives and say you want it on a ballot,” he said. “It has to go to a committee and hearings.”
He said if the Legislature approves it, the issue then goes to a statewide referendum.
“If lawmakers are elected to represent the views of the people, let it be put on the ballot for the people to decide,” he added.