Efforts to legalize casinos are moving forward in the Georgia state Legislature, as a compromise of sorts that would bring “destination resorts” to two major cities in the state has been confirmed by state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The news agency reports that while the specific wording of the revamped legislation that would amend the state constitution and allow one gaming destination resort in Atlanta and one in either Augusta, Savanah, or Columbus, is not yet available, the new details were confirmed by Beach, one of the bill’s chief sponsors.
Chairman of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee Rep. Ron Stephens’ HR 807 would have added the question to last November’s election ballot, to permit the development of up to four casinos in the state, with two in the metro Atlanta area, but the bill never did make it to the House floor. Recently, Stephens said that this year he plans to present something similar to last year’s proposal that was approved by the Regulated Industries Committee in February 2016. HR 807 called for minimum investments of $1.25 billion for one Atlanta-area casino and $750 million for the other, with a $400 million investment for the final two statewide licenses.
The new legislation, which unlike previous versions would not include legalizing betting on horse racing, would see the creation of a new gaming commission by the state, one which would be similar in fashion to that of Nevada. Up to two gaming licenses would be issued by the state. A $2 billion investment would be required for the Atlanta license, and a secondary state license for the other location would require a minimum investment of $450 million.
Gambling revenue for the state’s two “resorts” would be taxed at a rate of 20 percent, with the state’s HOPE Scholarship receiving 70 percent of the gaming proceeds, said Beach. Currently, the merit-based college scholarship program is funded entirely by revenue from the Georgia Lottery. A new needs-based scholarship would be the recipient of the remaining 30 percent. Stephens said that both, the proceeds amount that would be funneled to the needs-based scholarship and the proposed tax rate are negotiable. He said, “That’s the beginning of the conversation,” according to the Atlanta news agency.
The new legislation is expected to be presented this week in both the House and Senate. The bill will be carried by Stephens in the House. Stephens said that the bill should be filed today, according to the news agency.
According to a recent report, state lobbying records show a minimum of 49 registrations on the behalf of several casino operators, including the two largest casino companies in the world; Las Vegas Sands and MGM Resorts, which had expressed serious interest in an Atlanta-area casino, as well as Wynn Resorts. Stephens said that even with the higher tax rate and the increased investment requirement, several major gaming companies are still eyeing Georgia.