Two Savannah Representatives, Two VERY Different Opinions on Casinos

$2 billion. That’s with a “b”.

Its how much Georgia stands to make from one casino near Atlanta, according to supporters of a bill filed yesterday by Savannah Representative Ron Stephens.

That same bill would only allow two in the entire state.

One in a county with a  population of more than 900,000 people. The only one right now that fits the bill is Fulton County.

The other in a county with more than 250,000 people, but less than 900,000.

The only one of those that is not near Atlanta is Chatham County.

A casino along I-95, which is where some gambling organizations are looking, could be worth $450,000 in construction costs alone.

“We are looking for that tourist destination product that is so unique, over and above anything else that you see in the country,” explained Rep. Ron Stephens.

That’s what Representative Ron Stephens believes a casino in Chatham County could be.  He says its the best way to reinvigorate the HOPE Scholarship program in Georgia. 30% of all tax money raised would go toward HOPE and Pre-K programs. That’s in addition to the property tax benefits and several thousand jobs that would be created.

“We are looking for something for people to come in to the state, enjoy their time and leave their dollars with and then go back home,” said Stephens.

The way the bill is written now, only 40% of the money made can come from gambling.

“There ought to be other things out there, whether it be hotels, restaurants golf courses, it ought to be a tourism destination rather than what most folks think of as a casino,” said Stephens.

“The notion that the only way we can improve the Hope Scholarship program is through gambling is ludicrous,” said Representative Jesse Petrea.

Representative Jesse Petrea says proponents of the bill are using HOPE to push a bill that sounds great, but not everyone will get that “big money”.

“This is all about saving Hope. That’s hogwash.” said Petrea.
“This is not all about saving hope. If it was all about saving Hope then we’d be talking about other ways, we could be talking about funding this through our general fund.”

Petrea also has questions about the other effects of Casinos on Georgia’s coffers.

“How much casino money do we then lose out of the other pocket going to the lottery?”

“A casino basically moves in and sucks everything into this black hole of a casino,” said Petrea. “Everyone just migrates to this casino and it harms all those ancillary businesses, its almost like a Walmart affect on retail. Everything goes to the casino and everything else suffers at its expense.”

Petrea points to the collapse of casinos and the economy in Atlantic City

And as for the Bill’s limit of two casinos statewide?

“The bill only allows for two Casinos in the state. Lets be honest, once we’ve amended the Constitution, we know well what will happen. We will end up with casinos throughout the State.”

Petrea says he’d like to see increasing the tobacco tax – which Georgia currently has the 3rd lowest in the nation.

He adds that Georgia is in good shape. With a $2 billion surplus, 46th in the nation in taxes, and one of 9 states with a AAA bond rating.

“Georgia is as solid financially or  a state as is in the union. We are safe we are strong we are doing well, we survived the great recession better than most states did. its not like we are in crisis, this state is doing well because we’ve been conservatively managed,” explains Petrea. “And I believe we need to continue to do that.”

Stephens says this is just the first draft of the bill. Changes will come, and the process could take as long as two years.

And voters will still have a say in the process.

“There’s a middle piece where the city or county would have to put it on the ballot before voters would even get to it,” explains Stephens. “So there’s a significant hurdle we would have to go through before we can get there.”

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SAVANNAH, Ga (WSAV) – Rep. Ron Stephens’ proposed Bill is titled with the name, “Destination Resorts.” The bill would allow for casino gambling in Georgia.

‘Destination Resorts’ allows for two casinos. The placed locations are contingent upon the population size of the county in which the casino would be built in.

The first casino would be permitted in a county with a population size of 900,000 citizens. The only county with that number is: Fulton County in Atlanta.

The other population constraint is that of: equal to 250,000 citizens but no more than 900,000 citizens. Chatham County is the only county not connected to Atlanta that fits the requirements – for the casino.

The bills name – might unfold more clues about the possible location. Any destination has to be connected to a convention center district; that means, Hutchinson Island fits the bill perfectly.

The bills revised version does not give local lawmakers the final say: instead a gaming commission will negotiate any deal for the state and takes five million per year for licensing.

Any county with a casino will get tax revenue from the facility – but the number is not exactly specified in the bill.

At least two members of the Savannah Delegation: Rep. Jesse Petrea and State Rep. Bill Hitchens oppose the casinos in Georgia.

The rest of the House will be debating the idea before it ever comes up for a vote.

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