Casino gaming is back on the table in the Georgia General Assembly. In fact, three bills that could expand legalized gambling in Georgia are in play after Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) filed House Resolution 30 Tuesday, which calls for a statewide referendum to authorize a limited number of casino resorts in Georgia. Besides this call for a constitutional amendment, Stephens recently filed a bill that would legalize sports betting in the state. On Wednesday, Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) filed SB 30 which would establish a Horse Racing Commission.
Stephens’ proposal for a Constitutional Amendment can be a tough task because it requires a two-thirds vote in both Chambers. This time, however, he has bi-partisan support and has a number of powerful co-sponsors including Rep. Alan Powell (R-Powell) Hartwell, and Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus), the Dean of the House.
Some believe Georgia is poised to reap significant economic benefits from casino resorts.
“Currently, Georgia is a drive-through state,” Rick Lackey of City Commercial Real Estate told InsiderAdvantage Wednesday. “Thousands of tourists stop in Georgia every year to either buy gas or have lunch before continuing their drive to vacation destinations in Florida and other areas. Right now, we don’t have anything to offer them, so they get back in tier cars and head south. Casino resorts would seek to capture the business of those tourists as well as serve as planned vacation destinations.”
According to Lackey, there are currently more than 5,000 acres of potential resort sites under listing agreements with the company.
Lackey went on to say that the designers of The Battery, the mixed-use development and home of the Braves, have master planned a mixed-use development in the Columbus on the Chattahoochee River front, in Lavonia on Lake Hartwell and just south of Savannah in Midway that include retail, water taxis, civic buildings, RV resorts, family entertainment, senior living, workforce housing, luxury hotels and casinos. Other potential areas include Kingsland, LaGrange and Bremen.
“Developments of this magnitude will require capital investments of between $500 million and $1 billion and create between 3000 and 5000 local jobs each,” he said. “If Georgia does what it is capable of doing, this would create the same economic impact as the proposed Amazon HQ2 without offering any tax incentives. And community-wide, the casino resort would be the equivalent of dropping a KIA plant in Hartwell, Lavonia, Columbus or any of the other areas under consideration.”
Lackey said the “best sites for casino resorts are in rural Georgia. Generally, successful destination resorts with casinos draw customers that can easily travel by car and are within 2-to-5-hour drive times of major population centers.” He added that the best locations are close to a state line, near an exit ramp, and including at least 100 acres.
Supporters believe the casino resorts will have major impacts on the state, and will bring jobs and infrastructure improvements in the communities.
Proceeds generated would be split several ways, according to HR 30, including the HOPE Scholarship and a newly-created power savings account for emergencies in the state. The bill would also create a new opportunity fund to benefit Georgians with a median income or less for Pre-K through college. This fund would be managed under the same umbrella as HOPE.