Georgia voters may soon decide whether to allow casinos in the state, with some of the proceeds going to the HOPE scholarship and pre-kindergarten programs.
A discussion between lawmakers regarding legislation that would allow casinos to set up shop in Georgia took place at a standing-room only hearing on Monday.
Atlanta is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the US that does not have some form of Las Vegas-style gaming, but efforts to introduce a casino bill in the past has been met with short shrift by the legislature.
State Rep. Ron Stephens has introduced legislation in March proposing a constitutional amendment to overturn the state’s ban on casino gambling, as well as a bill that would limit the number of casinos in the state to just six in five specific geographic areas.
Stephens’ proposal charges millions of dollars in upfront licensing fees plus a 12% tax on gross gaming revenue every year. At least 90% of that income would have to be spent for “educational programs and purposes,” with HOPE as a first priority.
MGM Chairman and CEO Jim Murren said his company would be interested in a downtown resort and casino, adding that metro Atlanta could support a $1b project that could generate 3,000 to 4,000 temporary construction jobs and 4,000 to 5,000 permanent jobs.
Murren also added that Atlanta is well positioned to support a major casino resort with the presence of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the Georgia World Congress Center.
Horse racing advocates also testified Tuesday in support of their industry.
President of the Georgia Horseracing Coalition and owner of Gwinnett County thoroughbred Mucho Macho Man Dean Reeves also outlined plans to build a racetrack in Atlanta but limiting the calendar to 20 live racing annually to assure top horses and top prizes.
“Atlanta is the largest metropolitan area in the U.S. without a racetrack,” said Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. “That is a hole in the economy of Atlanta that has to be filled.”
A legislative committee studying ways to shore up HOPE scholarship program held its first meetings Monday and Tuesday in Atlanta. The group has a Dec. 1 deadline to make recommendations about increasing funding for the program, which was designed to cover all expenses using lottery funding.
In order to get the issue on the statewide ballot, Georgia lawmakers in both the House and Senate must approve it by a two-thirds majority vote.
If it’s approved, voters in each region would then decide if they want a casino in their area, and if approved the decision of whether or not citizens want a casino in their area would be decided upon by voters in each region.