A compromise to legalize casinos in Georgia is moving ahead in the state Legislature, with a scaled-back effort that would allow two gaming “resort destinations” — one in Atlanta and one in either Augusta, Columbus or Savannah.
The move comes as Gov. Nathan Deal signaled he may not stand in the way, and as developers begin jockeying for potential sites particularly in the capital city, including next to the world’s busiest airport.
The legislation is not yet available, but new details were confirmed from its chief sponsors, state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, and state Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah. They include support for the state’s HOPE scholarship, as well as a new needs-based scholarship.
Also on Tuesday, the development team planning a major luxury hotel complex, offices and a travel plaza next to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport was weighing the potential for a Las Vegas-style casino on the site.
The joint venture of California-based Majestic Realty and Atlanta-based Carter said Tuesday that the group also has been approached by a number of casino groups that are backing a proposed constitutional amendment.
Many casino boosters have pointed to the arena and convention district downtown as a likely landing spot for a casino, but some have pushed back on that notion. A recent series of studies by the downtown business coalition Central Atlanta Progress said an expansion of gambling could give state tax revenue a giant boost, but it would also generate new public safety, infrastructure and social costs for cities and counties.
None of that matters if Beach and Stephens cannot persuade their colleagues to go along. Two pieces of legislation are necessary: One is the so-called “enabling legislation” that would detail the tax rate, location, investment requirements and more. That bill would be subject to Deal’s veto, although the governor can also sign it into law or let it become law without his signature.
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