Reed: Casinos interested in Turner Field amid MGM news

MGM Resorts International isn’t the only major casino company scoping out Atlanta.

In a news conference Thursday, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said as many as four gambling companies have asked to meet to discuss coming to the city. What’s more, Reed said, all have their sights set on Turner Field, which is expected to be vacant in 2017 when the Atlanta Braves move to their new Cobb County ballpark.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported in early July that MGM officials have toured property near Centennial Olympic Park and “the Gulch” downtown as a potential location. Records show MGM is pitching gaming as a source of thousands of jobs, as well as a way to revive Georgia Lottery-funded programs, such as the HOPE scholarship.

Reed — in line with Gov. Nathan Deal — has long said that he’s opposed to gaming in Georgia. But on Thursday Reed said it would be “fiscal malpractice” not to meet with the groups because of the “staggering” amount of investment they could bring.

Reed indicated the companies, both domestic and international, have tossed out figures on par with MGM’s potential investment.

“The conversations that we had initially involved investments that you can’t turn down over a telephone,” Reed said.

Bringing casino-style gaming to Georgia is a heavy lift, however, as Deal and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said they don’t support the politically charged effort.

Proponents, however, say it’s possible to put a constitutional amendment to legalize casino gambling on the ballot as early as 2016.

Reed gave greater insight into his reservations on Thursday.

“I believe that Las Vegas is in Las Vegas for a reason, and I just have real issues with putting a facility in Atlanta where working folks can get off work and walk into a gaming casino, as opposed to having to go a destination for it,” he said.

Reed said he’s not attempting to be a “moralist,” but noted that when he has stayed at the MGM resort in Detroit, local working-class people, not tourists, fill up the slot machines.

“Every time I’ve seen it, I’ve left the casino not feeling well,” he said.

The news is the latest chatter over the future of the Turner Field site.

So far, Reed has expressed preference for a $300 million proposal by Georgia State University and the Atlanta real estate firm Carter, an option he again endorsed on Thursday. The development team has proposed a blend of private student apartments, senior housing, single-family homes, a grocery store, shops and separate college football and baseball stadiums on about 80 acres.

But residents, who have organized in hopes of directing the development there, are calling for the mayor and city council to hold off on striking a deal until next year. Members of the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition say they want time to first complete a community study that will help guide development.

Last winter, the neighborhoods were awarded a $212,000 grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission for the study, which is set to begin later this year.

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Staff writer J. Scott Trubey contributed to this report.