NORTON NOTES: Mega Casino Will Have More Impact in Georgia
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By Steve Norton
CEO, Norton Management
I am certainly not opposed to horse racing, but in a city with nearly 100,000 hotel rooms Atlanta's economy would benefit far more from a destination casino downtown. A horse racetrack will draw its audience primarily from the local market, with the exception of 4 major races, 3 of which are permanently located.
A major casino, with the added amenities of entertainment and multiple restaurant choices, will draw from all of North America, and also the world. The Strip in Las Vegas has 88,000 rooms and attracts the largest conventions and trade shows in America, with Orlando occasionally ending the year in first place.
For years Chicago, with 108,000 rooms held first place in convention attendance, but then Las Vegas had to house the largest trade show, Comdex, with 170,000 exhibitors and attendees.
Prior to 1990, the major Strip casinos primarily attracted conventions that could be totally accommodated in a single casino resort. This meant that the room, banquet, restaurant, entertainment and yes casino play, never had to leave the property.
Well, I happened to be President/COO of the Las Vegas Sands, which had just completed the largest independent convention center - Sands Expo Center - under the ownership of Sheldon Adelson's MA Company, which also owned Comdex. I was given the responsibility of convincing the Strip CEO's that large conventions, mid-week, could be a profitable experience. So, we agreed to set the daily room rate at $150, about triple the then average mid-week rate, agreed to give the larger Strip properties the majority of the profitable banquet business, rent all of their exhibit and meeting space, and provide free bus service from each participating hotel to the various exhibits and meetings. In return, Sands would receive a 10% commission for handling the reservations and providing the buses.
I also suggested that their gourmet restaurants would be full of paying, not complementary customers and that they might want to give a few dealers some extra days off, during the show. That year Las Vegas passed Chicago as the top convention destination in North America.
With one of the world’s busiest airports and a large inventory of accommodations, Atlanta could attract more mid-week conventions and watch the attendance and number of exhibitors grow for shows already booked if a major casino was available nearby. Plus, on weekends, usually a slower time for the hotel industry, in major US cities, new visitors will be drawn to Atlanta by the casino's availability.
And the good news is that the majority of the casino win, likely exceeding a billion dollars annually, would most likely come from visitors, not the metro Atlanta population.
A Wynn Resorts representative indicated the positive results from the opening of their Encore Resorts Casino, just outside Boston. But the big difference in Boston and Atlanta is that Atlanta has far more hotel rooms and a much busier airport than Boston.
The Georgia Faith and Freedom group is concerned about the growth of gambling addictions, but that can be minimized by not allowing gaming and sports betting online (which would make gambling available to minors at home), and would most likely compete with the state lottery which provides support for the Hope Scholarships. But an Atlanta mega casino could add over $250 million annually to the Hope Scholarship program.