The MGM National Harbor resort in Oxon Hill, Md., just outside of Washington, D.C., is seen as a model for what MGM Resorts International could build in Georgia if Las Vegas-style gambling is legalized in the state. The $1.4 billion complex includes a 308-room hotel, 12 eateries, a 125,000-square-foot casino floor, retail and a 3,000-seat theater. The resort opened in December 2016. J. Scott Trubey/
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Next Georgia gov will face new push for $3B+ in casino projects

Casino advocate asks: ‘Would you like to be the governor when HOPE dies?’

If at first you don’t succeed, sweeten the pot.

That seems to be the strategy from state Rep. Ron Stephens, the Savannah Republican who has tried repeatedly to legalize casino gambling in Georgia.

His latest attempt will involve a push next year to allow three gambling centers around the state that total at least $3 billion in investments, with some of the proceeds going toward shoring up the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship. 

The bill would be tailored to require gambling giants commit at least $2 billion for a casino in Atlanta and $500 million for two others. His bill would also require that casino companies commit to create at least 10,000 new jobs. 

Jarred Schenke over at BisNow reports that the casinos would likely seek one site in Savannah and another one near Atlanta’s booming airport. 

Stephens’ past attempts have failed amid stiff opposition from fellow conservative and Gov. Nathan Deal. And he faces tough odds to clear the measure next year under a new state leader.

Stacey Abrams, her party’s nominee, has said she would only back gambling measures if Republicans agreed to use the new revenues to add a needs-based program for HOPE.

And GOP nominee Brian Kemp echoed other GOP candidates for top state offices in opposing casino gambling.

Even with the next governor’s support, it’s a mighty lift. It would take a constitutional amendment, which would require a two-thirds majority and a statewide vote of confidence to get etched into Georgia law.

While Atlanta Journal-Constitution polls suggested a majority of voters would support the change, it still must overcome opposition from social conservatives and other critics who are ready to fight to keep Georgia casino-free.

Stephens is optimistic. He and his allies have long eyed gambling as a new source of revenue for the college scholarship program, whose awards were slashed in 2011 in a Republican-led effort framed as a way to keep the program solvent.

Unlike other companies that require heaps of taxpayer-funded incentives, he added, casino magnates aren’t asking for major tax breaks. 

Asked how he’d work to win over the next state leader in January, he offered a question of his own.  

“Would you like to be the governor when HOPE dies?”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.