If A Casino Goes Up In Atlanta, Who Pays?
The push for legalizing casinos in Georgia has returned to the Statehouse for the second straight year, and skeptics have million-dollar questions about the cost gleaming resorts would have on local governments and businesses.
“The idea that this is going to be a big tourist boost, we can't find any data that really speaks to that unless you're in Las Vegas,” A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, said.
A study of how casinos have impacted cities in other states, commissioned by the business groups, found they draw a majority of their visitors and revenue from local residents.
Robinson said he's worried a casino would hurt Atlanta's reputation.
"Many of us are a bit nervous about what the image that a big-box casino has would do to our community,” he said.
On top of possible losses to local businesses, Robinson said city governments could end up paying for infrastructure and security to support casinos.
But there are Georgians excited about the possibility of a casino in Atlanta. On Saturdays a few of them gathered in the parking lot behind a Marietta bowling alley, where they caught a bus to the River Valley Casino in North Carolina.
Lisa and Steve, who declined to give their last names, paid $25 for the bus ride, which also got them $25 in credits to spend at the casino.
“We're small time players,” Steve said.
The friends said they would love to catch a bus to downtown Atlanta instead of North Carolina, they might even drive themselves into the city.
“Georgia's losing out on a lot of money,” Lisa said.
State Rep. Ron Stephens from Savannah said tax revenue from casinos would go directly to help fund state scholarship program and potentially early education programs.
It would take an amendment to Georgia’s constitution for casino gambling to be legal here, that requires voter approval.
Stephens said casinos would create 10,000 jobs, and that claims that they would burden local governments and business are “not true.”
“They get a portion of revenue right off the top to help fund the infrastructure needs, and it will be a huge infrastructure need,” said Stephens.
But Stephens, who prefers the term “resort destinations” over “casinos,” declined to say what percentage of their potential tax revenue would go to local governments to cover extra costs.
He said he hopes the legislation passed would direct “upwards of 20 percent” of casino revenue to taxes.