Sensing that political winds in Georgia have shifted regarding gambling in the past few years, officials at MGM Resorts International recently toured property near Centennial Olympic Park and “the Gulch” in downtown Atlanta. The casino giant is considering a billion casino-resort in the city, one of the few major metropolises without a casino. Later, it was suggested that Turner Field, the former Olympic Stadium and now home to the Atlanta Braves baseball team, could be a casino site. The Braves are moving to a suburban Atlanta stadium in two years.
A narrow majority of Republican voters voiced support for casino gambling in 2012 and horse racing has gained proponents this year.
President of MGM’s National Harbor in Baltimore and a member of the Atlanta scouting team, Lorenzo Creighton said, “We like the concept of putting a resort somewhere in the metro Atlanta area. It all starts with the HOPE scholarship, which would be the primary benefactor. It’s a win-win.” Funding for the state’s HOPE scholarship program, supported by the Georgia Lottery, has declined due to increasing demand.
Besides supporting the HOPE program, supporters of an Atlanta casino said the project would generate millions in tax revenue and create high-paying jobs. Legislation proposed earlier this year by state Rep. Ron Stephens of Savannah forecasted that casinos could create more than 10,900 jobs statewide. To pass the measure, a two-thirds majority would be required in both the state House and Senate. Following that, voters would need to pass a referendum to legalize casinos in the state.
Despite MGM’s interest, Governor Nathan Deal and the state legislature are not ready to buy into casino gambling. Deal’s top aide, Chris Riley, noted, “I doubt it will happen before January 10, 2019,” referring to the date of the next governor’s inauguration.
By giving communities the final say, casino supporters plan to borrow a strategy that worked to end the prohibition on Sunday sales of wine, beer and liquor on Sundays. At the time, then-Governor Sonny Perdue resisted the change.