Could the Atlanta airport emerge as a casino location?

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Could the Atlanta airport emerge as a casino location?

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A rendering of the planned InterContinental hotel at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Could a casino fly at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport?

The development team planning a major luxury hotel complex, offices and a travel plaza next to the world’s busiest airport is weighing the potential for a Las Vegas-style casino on the site. The joint venture of California-based Majestic Realty and Atlanta-based Carter said Tuesday the group also has been approached by a number of casino groups that are backing a constitutional amendment to allow casinos in the state.

The emergence of the airport as a possible site for a casino comes as the state Legislature is expected to soon debate whether to allow casinos in Georgia. On Tuesday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported details of a scaled-back effort that would allow two gaming “resort destinations” — one in Atlanta and one in either Savannah, Columbus or Augusta.

A bill has not yet been introduced so far this session, but it is expected soon. Last year, legislation that would have allowed for multiple gambling resorts in Georgia, including two in the Atlanta area, failed to gain traction under the Gold Dome.

Many casino boosters have pointed to the arena and convention district downtown as a likely landing spot for a casino, but some have pushed back on that notion.

“The airport is a logical site to be brought into this conversation,” Stan Conway, a Majestic Realty executive vice president, said in an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Although Conway said the discussions on the casino idea have “progressed beyond concept,” a casino at the airport site is by no means a sure bet. To amend the constitution, a super-majority in the state House and Senate are needed to put the matter before voters. Local approvals also are likely to be needed.

A spokeswoman for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed declined to comment on the casino idea.

Majestic and Carter’s existing plans are to build hotels including an InterContinental next to the airport, along with office space and a travel plaza valued at about $650 million.

The site could attract passengers connecting through Hartsfield-Jackson as well as local gamblers, Conway said. The property, on the airport campus at the domestic terminal, is removed from neighborhoods that might object to a casino in their backyards.

“From a political perspective, it’s agnostic,” Conway said.

Backers of casino gambling in Georgia say it could create thousands of jobs and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into Georgia Lottery-funded education programs such as the HOPE Scholarship. But casinos face long odds because of potent political opposition from both liberal and conservative groups.

Efforts to legalize casinos and horse racing have been scuttled for years by conservative lawmakers in both major parties who see gambling as a moral hazard.

Last year, Las Vegas giant MGM Resorts International proposed a $1 billion-plus casino in Atlanta, that would incorporate a hotel, theater and fine dining. The company scouted land around the Gulch in downtown near the Georgia World Congress Center.

MGM Resorts has returned as major backer of legalizing casinos. In December, the company opened a $1.4 billion resort near Washington, D.C., that CEO Jim Murren has said could be a model for what it could build in metro Atlanta if the law changes.

Under compromise legislation, the state would issue up to two licenses. One in the Atlanta license would require an investment of $2 billion, and a secondary state license for elsewhere in Georgia would need at least a $450 million investment.

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