MGM Resorts announced earlier this week that it would open its $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor casino in Maryland on December 8, 2016. The casino operator is also developing its$900 million MGM Springfield casino in Massachusetts and has expressed interest in developing another billion dollar casino resort in Atlanta, Georgia, should legislators pass a constitutional amendment that would legalize the casino industry.
James Murren, the chief executive officer of MGM Resorts recently visited Atlanta and met with civic and business leaders to reaffirm his company’s commitment to developing a $1.4 billion facility in Atlanta. Murren used data from a recent survey which showed that gamblers in Atlanta travelled out of state and spent more than $600 million each year at neighboring casinos. A report published by the Central Atlanta Progress estimates that gambling market in Georgia to be around $2.5 billion and a 20 percent gambling tax rate on casinos would generate close to $400 million a year for the state.
Murren met with the Rotary Club of Atlanta and highlighted the fact that the Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship program which is funded by the state lottery is facing financial challenges even though $1 billion was pumped into a number of educational programs last year. Murren stated that by legalizing the casino industry and allowing MGM to develop its billion dollar resort, the state would not only be able to raise significant funds through gambling taxes for the HOPE Scholarship program but also create thousands of employment opportunities.
However the move to legalize the casino industry in Georgia has received a lot of opposition from both religious and business leaders who believe that the casino industry will bring more harm than good to Georgia. Lawmakers in Georgia tried earlier this year to pass an amendment that would allow four casinos to be developed in Georgia, two of which would be in Atlanta but the move was opposed by Governor Nathan Deal. Murren addressed the political climate in Georgia during an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
In the interview, Murren said “This is a tremendously appealing market. Georgia is very vibrant state, a large economy, diverse, it sits literally at the terminus of the entire Southeast. It has a tremendous airport, great corporate base already and it’s surrounded by gaming in one form or another. Only Georgia can decide what is best for Georgia. …I am not at all surprised and certainly not discouraged in any way. …Georgia has the opportunity to do something that is unique. They have the benefit of evaluating every other state in the United States that has approached this issue.”
MGM is not the only casino developer interested in developing a casino resort in Atlanta. Las Vegas Sands Corp headed by billionaire Sheldon Adelson has expressed interest to develop a $2 billion casino resort in Atlanta. Body Gaming and Penn National are also interested in developing casinos in Georgia.