In 1993, Georgia’s then-Governor Zell Miller introduced a radical new program called HOPE. Funded by the state’s lottery sales, HOPE provides scholarships for local youths who are smart enough to attend college, but lacked the monetary aptitude to fulfill that goal. With HOPE’s funds dwindling, the state is now seriously contemplating the benefits of building a casino in Atlanta.
For decades, the thought of legal casino gambling in Georgia was absurd. Part of a southeastern band of states known as the ‘Bible Belt’, Georgia has been historically (and religiously) opposed to most forms of gambling. But with the recurrent introduction of new state lawmakers, it seems the view towards the matter is shifting, at least from a political standpoint.
At a committee hearing last week, state officials heard (and seemed to side with) casino executives who extolled the rewards that could be reaped from the legalization of casino gambling and perhaps even horse racing. They also pitched a proposal to build a $1.1 billion casino in Atlanta.
Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts, told the committee that Atlanta’s metropolitan district “could easily support a $1 billion casino”, revealing that the company had already scouted the downtown area for prime locations.
A consultant firm hired by MGM told lawmakers that if Georgia were to build six casinos, it could have a $5 billion impact on the economy. Furthermore, it would open an estimated 30,000 jobs, while generating $290 million in tax dollars each year.
Known as the Gold Dome proposition, one version of the legislation would require casinos to pay a licensing fee upfront, while syphoning 12% of all gross gaming revenue directly in the Hope Scholarship and Pre-K programs.
Lawmakers On Board, but What About Georgians?
Despite Georgia’s historical abhorrence of gambling, the prospect of raising HOPE from the ashes is clearly piquing the interest of state legislators. In its prime, HOPE was able to deliver full scholarships, as well as money to help pay for books; a free ride for worthy high school student, if you will.
However, less people are playing the low-odds number lotteries, opting for the more probable payoffs of scratch tickets, which don’t deliver as much funding into HOPE. The end result is a HOPE program that is only able to cover part of the cost of college tuition for students.
Reviving the scholarship program to its former glory—the glory Gov. Miller built over two decades ago—is a goal many could be willing to set their anti-gambling views aside to achieve.
But it’s not just politicians who will decide if Atlanta should become a destination for casino gambling. Ultimately, that decision is in the hands of the voting public.
Should a measure be approved by lawmakers, it would take a constitutional amendment to legalize casino gambling in the state, and such amendments must be supported by voters. If the majority of voters say ‘Yay’, they then have to decide where the casino(s) should be built, and that will be the most difficult thing of all.
While many citizens might like the benefits that a gambling facility will bring their communities, they are less likely to favor one being built in their back yard. Suffice to say, Georgians should be prepared for the bombardment of Gold Dome campaigns, decreeing the pros and cons of building a casino in various neighborhoods throughout the Peach State.