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Report: Casinos could produce $1 billion a year

Despite the numbers released, Deal says there will be no gambling expansion

POSTED: October 28, 2011 11:30 p.m.

Stacey Dickson sounds a little surprised if you ask her how the leaders of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau feel the area's tourism could be impacted by casinos.

As the group's president, Dickson diplomatically said the group has never "given any formal consideration" to the idea.

"It's never come up as even a question to propose," Dickson said. "I think until state lawmakers make some changes or whatever happens up there under the Gold Dome — even hypothetical discussions of it — I don't really see the point yet for that."

And there may not be a point for the discussion anytime soon, despite a study released by the Georgia Lottery Corp. this week that shows casinos in key locations across the state — including Lake Lanier — could generate nearly $1 billion a year.

The study, commissioned by the lottery, shows that casinos with video machines in metro Atlanta, Lake Lanier, Savannah and Jekyll Island could produce hundreds of millions in revenue if they opened by 2014.

A casino in downtown Atlanta could bring in nearly $800 million a year if it had 5,000 machines, the study found. A casino in Savannah could generate $100 million, the study found.

The $91,000 study was produced by the New Jersey-based Spectrum Gaming Group, an independent research firm.

The report also gauged locations in Cobb, Clayton and DeKalb counties.

"Georgia, in particular the Atlanta metropolitan area, would be viewed by the gaming industry as one of the most prized opportunities in North America, largely because it has one of the largest, most
affluent, untapped markets, with excellent air and highway access," the study said.

The issue of opening casinos in the state is not new — multiple groups have pushed for expanding the state's gaming industry after the lottery started in 1992. And Georgia law doesn't specifically ban video lottery terminals — a type of machine connected to a centralized system.

Experts estimate the state has between 10,000 and 20,000 illegal video gambling machines already in operation.

But casino gambling would face a cool reception in the Republican-led Legislature. State leaders, including Gov. Nathan Deal, have expressed concerns about casinos in Georgia.

Following the release of the Spectrum Gaming report by the Atlanta Journal Constitution this week, Deal's chief spokesman Brian Robinson told reporters there would be no expansion of gambling in Georgia under Deal's watch.

While campaigning in August 2010, Deal made headlines when he told a TV reporter in Savannah that he did "get that there are potentials" when asked about his opinion on gaming, horse racing and casinos.

"We should look at it with an open mind. And we should not say ‘no' just because of any particular bias one way or the other," Deal told the reporter in the Aug. 18 interview. "I'm willing to keep an open mind with that and let's take a look at all the facts before we make a decision."

His campaign quickly responded to the statement.

Deal later said that he did not personally support gambling and did not believe it would be the antidote to Georgia's ailing economy.

Robinson told Associated Press at the time that the issue was moot since permitting gambling in the state would require a constitutional amendment, which does not need the governor's signature to become law.

Reflecting on those statements this week, Robinson said the governor would use whatever influence he had in the legislature to oppose any expansion of gambling.

"The governor took a very strong stance during last year's campaign against an expansion of gambling in Georgia," Robinson said, when asked about last year's statements this week. "He believes it undermines our lottery and would bring social ills along with it ... a lot of water has passed under the bridge since last August."

Deal voted against online gambling bills as a congressman. Robinson said the governor took further stances against gambling as governor this year when he ordered the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to crack down on Internet cafes involved in illegal gambling and vetoed a bill the governor felt might encourage gambling.

"His record speaks for itself," Robinson said.

Georgia lottery board chairman Jimmy Braswell said the board commissioned the study to ensure lawmakers looking at the issue of video gaming have accurate information.

"The study shows a potential for a large amount of money, however, there are other social and economic issues to consider," Braswell said in a prepared statement. "For this reason, we have always viewed this concept as a public policy matter. The importance of the report is to bring some clarity to the issue through an independent study."

Supporters say casinos could generate extra money for the financially strapped HOPE scholarship and prekindergarten programs, which saw massive cuts this year after expenses began outpacing ticket sales.

"This was strictly a way of wanting to see HOPE and pre-K back to the roles they have historically played, and the only way to do that was raise more money," said Dave Garrett, who leads the HOPE 20/20 Coalition. "The existing gaming structure wasn't going to allow that to happen."

In 2009, a developer began pushing to install a casino at Underground Atlanta downtown. The lottery board quickly squashed the issue after then-Gov. Sonny Perdue said he wouldn't support it.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

 



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