Georgia’s Armstrong State University in Savannah was the location of a nearly seven-hour meeting on Monday between state legislatures who met to hear arguments both for and against casino proposals in the southern US state of Georgia.
The meeting included presentations from casino giants, Hard Rock International and MGM Resorts International, as well as church leaders opposed to casinos, along with members of study committees from the Georgia House and Senate for the preservation for the HOPE scholarship. Currently, the HOPE scholarship as well as other educational programs is funded by the Georgia lottery, but the program is experiencing difficulty keeping up with demand. Two other meetings to push casino development have been held in Atlanta by the committees, including one by the most publicly vocal of the proponents, MGM Resorts International who proposed building a resort in downtown Atlanta at a cost in excess of $1 billion. According to state representative Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, before recommendations are made to the Senate and the House this year, it’s likely there will be one more hearing.
Sheldon Adelson, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, has also shown more than a little interest in Georgia, and stirred things up by meeting with the state’s Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston on a recent visit. Governor Nathan Deal was on a European trade mission during the visit, but gambling expansion has long been opposed by Deal and last month he said he would actively oppose any current gambling expansion efforts being urged in the state Capitol.
Gambling critic heavyweight Professor John Kindt of the University of Illinois spoke at the hearing, and published a column in the Savannah Morning News last week stating that Georgia lawmakers have “failed to open their eyes or their testimony beyond the propaganda promoted by the gaming industry,” according to the Savannah Morning News.
According to Stephens, who proposed an amendment to Georgia’s constitution which would allow six casinos with an area cap, lawmakers also want to put a cap on the gambling profit companies can make from establishments. Stephens said that smaller companies are eyeing the coast, while larger investors have their sights set on metro Atlanta. Due to their proximity to neighboring Jacksonville, Florida and South Carolina, the St Mary’s and Savannah areas are attractive to investors.