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A sure bet: Rural areas need casinos more than Atlanta

Our state lawmakers are considering bills to allow casino gambling in Georgia. Before approval there would be a Constitutional Amendment for voters to weigh in. Ahead of this, there is “enabling” legislation that provides details of the proposals.

The lawmakers have expressed desires to see full-fledged resort casinos to be paid for and built by whatever group lobbies enough and does whatever is necessary behind the scenes to gain access to the Peach state. 

In 2016, bills were defeated that would have allowed four casinos into the state and backers of this year’s bill hope allowing just two casinos won’t scare off votes. 

This year’s legislation also dedicates more gambling proceeds to the HOPE Scholarship program than the previous effort, another attempt to sway legislators to vote in the bills’ favor. Under this year’s bills, 20 percent of gross gaming revenues from the casinos would go toward education, up from 12 percent under the last proposal. 

We’ll not weigh in here on the larger question of whether the government should encourage more gambling; nor will we harp on how destructive scratch-off cards are to those who can least afford to lose their money to send other people’s kids to college - but there is one part of the current casino proposals that make our rural blood boil. The legislature is going to limit the roulette, craps and other amenities to only two sites and they have dictated that Atlanta be one of the sites (requiring whatever company locates there spend at least $2 billion in construction). The second site must be in a town of at least 180,000 people, meaning essentially Savannah, Columbus or Augusta. 

That is pure big city hokum. North Carolina is able to handle casinos in rural areas and Georgia can too.

We strongly oppose the idea of limiting these casino sites to our largest cities and we are absolutely flabbergasted Atlanta would even be considered for a site.

Atlanta is already flush with attractions – a zoo, the newly-built Braves stadium just north of the city, the Falcons and their new stadium and throngs of restaurants and entertainment venues. Atlanta is the ninth largest metropolitan area in the United States, home to more than 5.7 million people - and growing. 

It doesn’t need anything else. Nor can it handle anything else with our heavy reliance on personal cars and lack of mass transit. 

Atlanta is already bulging at its seams; no improvements ever help the gridlock on the roads and now they want to reward their own poor planning with a casino resort.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of places that could use the economic boost from a casino. Places easily within two or three hours drive from Atlanta and from the other major cities. 

The growth that would come with these two “destination” casinos would radically revamp dormant areas of Georgia, places that have missed the growth. The potential for new jobs alone, some estimate that it would bring as many as 5,000, would be huge for areas of the state that have struggled. 

Legislators worry about lack of hospitals in the southern half of the state. Give them a casino and you can be pretty sure money for a hospital will follow.

We would also pose the argument that at least one of the casinos should be north of the metro area. Georgians spend about $570 million annually in casinos out of state. That money will continue heading to Murphy and Cherokee, filling the coffers of North Carolina, unless we locate one of the casinos in a spot to cut off gamblers heading north.  

Instead of piling on more to the haves of the state, it’s time to provide something to the have-nots. If casinos are coming, put them somewhere that benefits rural Georgians.

 

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