New details confirmed by AJC on casino legislation in Georgia

A compromise to legalize casinos in Georgia is moving ahead in the state Legislature, with a scaled-back effort that would allow two gaming "destination resorts" — one in Atlanta and one in either Savannah, Columbus or Augusta.

The legislation is not yet available, but new details were confirmed from one of its chief sponsors, state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta.

If approved, the state would create a new gaming commission modeled after Nevada. The commission 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.

The "resorts" would be taxed at 20 percent, well above the industry's preferred rate of about 12 percent and much closer to Gov. Nathan Deal's preferred rate of 24 percent.

Beach said 70 percent of proceeds from gaming would go toward the state’s popular Hope Scholarship, a merit-based state-funded college scholarship program. The other 30 percent would go toward a new needs-based scholarship.

Unlike earlier versions, the legislation would not legalize betting on horse racing. Beach said the scaled back effort was more palatable to colleagues hesitant to expand gambling in Georgia.

The legislation will be introduced in both chambers. State Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, will carry the bill in the House. The chairman of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee said the bill should be available Tuesday afternoon and filed on Wednesday.

“We’ve raised the bar way up there to where a $2 billion investment is now the floor,” Stephens said.

Stephens said both the proposed tax rate and the amount of proceeds that would go toward needs-based scholarships are negotiable.

“That’s the beginning of the conversation,” he said.

Several major gaming companies remain interested in Georgia, even with the increased investment requirement and the higher tax rate, he said.

“The spotlight on Georgia red hot,” he said. “There are a handful, not that many, that are looking for that opportunity.”

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