Casino gambling could come to Georgia

LaGRANGE –The State of Georgia plans to review an amendment to allow casino gaming early next year that would decide whether to allow casinos in the state.

State representatives spoke with the LaGrange City Council on Tuesday regarding a variety of issues that would require collaboration on city and state levels, including an amendment expected to be voted on in 2017 regarding gaming casinos in Georgia.

“If it is like the measure that was introduced during the last session, the state is divided into five zones,” said Rep. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus. “Two casino licenses would issue for the metro Atlanta area, and then one apiece for these other regions. The discussion that I heard was the west Georgia license would likely wind up being in Columbus, but that is not required by the statute.”

If the measure is approved, casino companies would bid for the license to build a casino in a given region. The bidding would be expected to be competitive, but only one casino would be allowed in any given region. So, if a casino was built in Columbus, a casino would not be allowed to build in LaGrange, and if the city voted against a casino, it would have to find another location.

“If you want to see what casino gaming can do for a local economy, go to Wetumpka, Ala., and find out how many restaurants are no longer there,” said Rep. Randy Nix, R-LaGrange, who opposes the amendment. “Find out how many events that have entertainment are no longer there. It’s all going right in that one place.”

So far, people in Columbus, Augusta and Atlanta have shown interest in having casinos built, and state officials who support the amendment hope that they will bring in additional revenue like the lottery does for HOPE, a college scholarship program.

The state recently turned over a $1 billion check to HOPE from lottery funds, and currently roughly 23 percent of lottery proceeds go toward education. The target is for 35 percent of proceeds going to education from the lottery, but according to McKoon, Georgia’s lottery is one of the most successful lotteries in the U.S., and even with a lower percentage then the target, it still brings in plenty of money for education.

“How much of a natural table gaming, slot machine market is there in Georgia for people who aren’t buying scratch off lottery tickets or power ball or what have you?” asked McKoon. “A big argument for this is that people are going to parachute in for this, particularly to metro Atlanta. This is going to be a destination, and again, you either buy that argument, or you don’t in terms of what people’s spending patterns will be.”

Overall, the LaGrange City Council held reservations regarding casino gaming in the area, and the city council does not have an official stance on casino gaming. The amendment to the state constitution is set to be voted on next year.