Georgia casino gets public hearing

Sep 17, 2015 10:29 AM

Atlanta may be the next big American city to become the site of a billion-dollar casino resort.

The prospect got its first public hearing this week as a legislative committee studying ways to generate revenue to fully fund the state’s HOPE scholarship program held its first meetings in Atlanta. The committee has a Dec. 1 deadline to make recommendations about how to increase funding for the scholarship program.

Gambling supporters contend they have the answer in the resort proposal that Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts says it would like to build. But there are significant hurdles, not the least of which is the opposition of Gov. Nathan Deal who has reduced the number of scholarship recipients because of insufficient funding from the state lottery program.

The Republican governor’s opposition to gambling can be managed since his final term ends in 2018 and projects the size of the proposed casino venture don’t happen overnight. Also, his signature on legislation would not be necessary if voters back a constitutional amendment.

MGM CEO Jim Murren has said Atlanta, which is already a major travel destination with one of the busiest airports in the world, could support a $1 billion resort with a line-up of restaurants and non-gaming amenities that typically encourage people to come in, spend money  and stay awhile.

The way Murren put it, “You do not have to be on the leading edge here. Georgia leaders could learn from the experiences of other gaming destinations that have already dealt with most of the issues gaming proponents are encountering.

Supporters hope to get a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot, but Georgia Lottery Corp. President Debbie has warned of the possible cannibalization of lottery sales.

Deal’s view is that, “Money is not everything. Society sometimes has to deal with the consequences of you generate it.”

The lack of sufficient lottery funding has forced Deal to reduce the number of students receiving awards through the HOPE program and tuition at many state schools has increased at a rate higher than the scholarship during recent years.

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. He can be reached at [email protected].