Casino Gambling Push Unfolds in Georgia

Casino Gambling Push Unfolds in Georgia

By Phil Kent –

Readers of InsiderAdvantage and James magazine were not surprised to see the Atlanta Journal-Constitution headline yesterday “MGM pitches 1B Casino” with the accompanying story that the giant gambling firm is scouting out downtown Atlanta with an eye toward building a $1 billion Las Vegas-style casino operation. Our chairman Matt Towery told readers of our May-June James issue “don’t be shocked” if such a “big” new idea is floated. He noted that legislation filed earlier this year by state Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, was designed to get a conversation going about locating casino gambling at various Georgia locations.

Stephens, who heads the state House of Representatives economic development committee, says MGM’s Atlanta location proposal would create 3,500 jobs and offer casino gambling as opposed to past projects that just involved video slot machines. “I’ve seen what they want to do and it will blow your mind,” he is quoted by the AJC. The lawmaker has also been in contact with Georgia Lottery officials, as well as other business and political leaders, to relay casino gambling ideas that would be tied to the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship and pre-kindergarten programs.

The Stephens constitutional amendment would be local option— that is, local governments would put a casino proposal on the ballot for voter approval or disapproval. Any new gambling operation in the state would also have to be approved by the state lottery board whose appointees are picked by the governor.

Gov. Nathan Deal has opposed casino gambling in the past and there’s no reason to think that he has changed his position now. However, Stephens remains undaunted. He says of MGM: “I know there’s a whole lot of obstacles. … (MGM doesn’t) want a dime of incentives, they just want to come.”

Towery’s analysis: “This reminds me of the first rumblings of a lottery back in 1989. Everyone thought the public and legislature would oppose it, but they were wrong. My guess is that casinos as an amendment will pass. The legislation requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber, but requires no action by the governor. I think this has been in the works for several years, basically concurrent with the Braves move to Cobb. While you are not hearing it, my guess is the real footprint in downtown Atlanta that fits the needs for a casino is Turner Field, which may explain Mayor Reed’s tepid response to the Braves exit. It’s much like the footprint of the Horseshoe Casino in Cincinnati, a model which I expect proponents to follow. This will have to be done through the Georgia Lottery Corporation, but that is a plus politically in that it will bring great benefit to the HOPE Scholarships which is a winner among GOP suburban voters. In other words, as predicted, get ready for casino gambling in Georgia. It’s not a matter of if…just when. In the end, years from now, it will be viewed as a winning move for the state.”