A Sheldon Adelson sighting at Georgia's Capitol as gambling arms race escalates

The picture at right is grainy, but we're told it's a snapshot of billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his entourage preparing to venture into the statehouse Thursday to meet with legislative leaders.

Adelson controls the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and is said to be shifting his focus on establishing a casino resort in Georgia after abandoning a similar effort in Florida.

Adelson's fat wallet kept Georgia's own Newt Gingrich afloat during the 2012 GOP presidential race – dropping $20 million. He spent $30 million on Mitt Romney in 2012. And he flirted with support for Gov. Nathan Deal's 2014 campaign.

Our AJC colleague James Salzer confirmed Adelson met with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston. But he won't be pow-wowing with Deal, who is midway through an economic development trip to Europe.

Ralston spokesman Kaleb McMichen suggested that the casino proposal wasn't the only topic on the docket during their discussion. 

"Speaker Ralston regularly meets with government and business leaders from out-of-town. With Georgia being a hub of global commerce, such visits are frequent,” said McMichen. ”That said, Speaker Ralston shares the concerns publicly expressed by Mr. Adelson and others over the Iran nuclear agreement and the mistreatment of one of America's most important and loyal allies - the nation of Israel."

The timing comes as special House and Senate committees are currently looking at a proposed constitutional amendment to permit a limited number of casinos in Georgia in exchange for a new revenue stream for the HOPE scholarship and pre-Kindergarten programs.

Lawmakers are expected to debate the measure next year but it's far from a sure thing. It would need support from two-thirds of the Legislature and a majority of voters in a statewide referendum in 2016.  Deal, who has said he opposes an expansion of gambling, has signaled he may not veto accompanying legislation if the referendum passes.

Already, there is a casino arms race underway at the statehouse. MGM Resorts International is trying to position itself as the inevitable candidate. In hearings held last week, MGM CEO Jim Murren said he could see his company making a billion-dollar investment in Atlanta.

But other casino firms are circling. Casino magnate Steve Wynn, an Adelson rival, is said to be scouting Georgia sites. And the AJC has reported that Boyd Gaming Corp. and Penn National Gaming are lining up lobbyists for the 2016 session.

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.