Legislation Begins on Casino Bill in Georgia

Georgia representatives are beginning to realize casinos are a smart means of bringing in tourists and generating state revenue as the state House discussed a casino/gambling bill Thursday, March 26th, 2015.

Ron Stephens, R-Savannah and Economic Development Committee Chairman, seeks to open up six different casinos throughout the state after reviewing the economic success facilitated by the debut of the MGM Casino in Springfield, Massachusetts, which cost $800 million to build.

Stephens estimates that opening up gambling in Georgia could have similar economic and financial benefits at an estimated annual rate of about $250 million. As he spoke to news resource AJC: “the tourism destination casino has been way overdue to get tourists into Georgia and their dollars into Georgia to fund higher education and Pre-K.”

Besides education, Stephens also believes that these casinos would stimulate the economy, as the casinos will need an estimated 10,000 long-term employees. Even before then, short-term work in the ballpark of 10,000 workers will be necessary to construct the various casinos all over the state. The current work would cost an estimated $1 billion. Stephens called the idea of the casinos “economic development in its purest form.”

For now, the bill remains just an idea until April 2nd, when the General Assembly can pass a vote on it. The next chance for it to appear on a statewide ballot as an amendment would be November 2016. Even then, voters would have to opt for casinos in their home state.

If enough voters get behind the amendment, Georgia would be split into a number of zones, up to five total, to evenly disperse the casinos throughout the state. Each casino would need its own license for a total of six, and all of these licenses would need to be distributed through the Georgia Lottery Corp.

The ball for the casinos got rolling back in January 2015 when Stephens commissioned McLaughlin & Associates to distribute a poll about whether residents would be interested. The results came back that a staggering 57 percent did want to pass legislation as long as the casino construction benefited the Helping Others Pursue Education or HOPE scholarship. This non-profit group seeks to get more students in Georgia into colleges and universities despite lack of financial support.

However, Georgia does not have a very successful track record with casinos in the state. Governor Nathan Deal and the Georgia Lottery Corp. have acted as roadblocks for past efforts. DeKalb County was slated to get a casino, but the idea was eventually scrapped.

Stephens believes that this time can be different though. He doesn’t intend to use the casinos as a divide between the rich and the poor, but rather to improve circumstances for all Georgians. Stephens is a staunch supporter that these casinos can cut down on the rate of crime and improve the economic health of some less fortunate neighborhoods.

“At some point, the increasing demands of HOPE and Pre-K and the decreasing ability of the lottery to keep up with them are going to convince voters to do this,” he said.

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