Georgia Republican Dreaming of Three Multi-Billion Dollar Integrated Resorts

Posted on: August 2, 2018, 01:00h. 

Last updated on: August 2, 2018, 08:19h.

Georgia State Rep. Ron Stephens (R -Savannah) is resuscitating his bid to bring casinos to the Peach State next year.  Stephens goal is to establish three multi-Billion dollar integrated resorts within the state — and he believes the population wants them too.

Georgia casinos
State Rep. Ron Stephens has been pushing for Georgia casinos for years, but has struggled to convince the social conservatives in the legislature. His bill will be a heavy lift again next year. (Image: AP)

Stephens will introduce a bill at the next legislative session that would allow state residents to vote on whether to amend the constitution to legalize casino gambling. He believes public opinion about gambling has changed in this largely conservative state.

A poll last year by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that 56 percent of likely voters would support casinos. This week, University of Georgia Professor of Political Science Charles Bullock told the BisNow website that public resistance to legal gambling in Georgia has been subsiding ever since voters narrowly authorized the lottery in 1992.

“If that were to appear on the ballot again, it would pass overwhelmingly,” he said. “There’s been a change probably toward gambling altogether [since then].”

Georgia Casinos ‘Just Like Disney World’

A recent study found Georgia residents spent around $670 million at casinos in neighboring states and that a homegrown casino sector would have a market potential of over $2.5 billion from Georgians alone, before tourist spending.

“They’re going to be incredibly unique [in the state],” Stephens promised. “It will be nothing different than someone going to Disney World, but I want to see that in Georgia. It’s entertainment, the whole thing is entertainment.”

Georgia is one of only nine states in the US without any kind of commercial or Indian casino gaming. The legislature has been talking about casinos for years and Stephens has tried repeatedly to muster support in the legislature for his various casino bills, with little success.

Governor Race

Is there anything to suggest the appetite for casinos has changed in the legislature? For one, Georgia’s staunchly anti-casino Republican governor Nathan Deal is on his way out this year. Unfortunately, the Republican hopeful to replace him, Brian Kemp, has said he would veto any casino bill that arrived on his desk.

But the Democratic candidate, Stacey Abrams, says she would support casinos as a way to bolster the state’s HOPE scholarship program. The polls on the gubernatorial race are incredibly close, but several suggest Abrams could edge it.

Even so, Stephens bill is a huge longshot to end up anywhere near the next governor’s desk in 2019 and Stevens would have to convince a lot of diehard social conservatives of the merits of a casino sector.

Even if it were, by some miracle, to go to a public referendum, as a constitutional measure it would need two-thirds of the vote to pass – a majority that is not borne out by the polls. Not yet, at least.