NORTON NOTES: GA Debates Casinos
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By Steve Norton
CEO, Norton Management
Rep. David Wilkerson is correct, that any mention of gaming and racing in Georgia, has to do with budgetary needs - most likely educational funding, and more specifically, the HOPE Scholarship. Last year's bill to add the gaming question to a statewide vote in November needs to carefully restrict casinos and/or racetracks to specifically chosen communities, and those should only be chosen after local commission or city votes say yes.
The great majority of communities will fear the increases in crime, prostitution, compulsive gambling and traffic congestion outweigh the increase in jobs, taxes and development.
Rep. Ginny Ehrhart and Rep. Bert Reeves strongly oppose gaming in their communities. Reeves believes that gaming would have a very negative impact on lower income individuals. But other states, like Massachusetts, with the most successful lottery ($926.71 bet per adult) has demonstrated that higher per capita spend occurs in lower income neighborhoods. Georgia's per capita adult spend is $507.46 per year. Massachusetts returns 72% to winners and Georgia, 68%.
Illinois provided evidence that low income neighborhoods spend more with a Chicago neighborhood billboard campaign that advertised "Your Ticket Out". Guess which neighborhoods were chosen for these billboards?
Casinos, on the other hand, attract a more affluent crowd.
The Georgia Horse Racing Coalition estimates that horse racing would produce nearly a billion dollars over five years, but they didn't say how many tracks would be needed, or that these tracks would have to have some kind of slot machines to produce this much in taxes.
Rep. Teri Anulewicz would prefer a gaming district with a single casino, like New Orleans or downtown Baltimore, which would seem to support my proposals of a single destination casino in downtown Atlanta, or near the Hartzfeld International Airport, both with large portions of Atlanta's 94,000 hotel rooms nearby.
Downtown Atlanta offers more than 2 million square feet of meeting, convention and event space, making it one America’s top convention/trade show destinations. And as the Las Vegas Strip has demonstrated, gaming increases the number of exhibitors and attendees of meetings held there.
A casino, convenient to Atlanta hotels, would increase occupancy's and average room rates, while adding new conventions to the existing ones. Plus placing the casino near the city's hotel inventory would most likely guarantee that the majority of casino win would come from visitors - especially traveling businessmen and convention visitors, staying several nights mid-week who have more disposable income than most visitors, having their travel costs, including room and meals covered by their employers.