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ATLANTA – Proponents of the legalization of casino gambling in Georgia have made no progress year after year in the General Assembly for the past decade, despite fierce opposition from religious conservatives.

But this year’s push has a different fold. A Georgia developer who helped build The Battery, a mixed-use complex in Cobb County that includes Atlanta Braves’ Truist Park, recently released renders of three proposed casino resorts across the state, and in the process, tangible ones Details introduced into a topic that was discussed frequently in the broadest sense.

“There’s a hometown feel to having someone in Georgia playing on the front lines,” said Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, co-sponsored a constitutional amendment to legalize Georgia casinos late in the House of Representatives Last month.

Smyre’s hometown is one of the casinos suggested by Rick Lackey, founder of City Commercial Real Estate in Atlanta. It would be built along the Chattahoochee River.

Lackey is also observing locations along Interstate 85 in Lavonia near the South Carolina line and along I-95 in Midway south of Savannah. In addition to casinos, resorts also include luxury hotels, entertainment venues, and retail stores.

According to Lackey, the location of casinos along Georgia’s north-south highways is key to attracting tourists.

“There are people who drive through Georgia on I-75, I-85, or I-95 on their way to Florida,” he said. “At some point they’ll stop and get gas, have a chick-fil-a sandwich, and go to the bathroom. We have nowhere to stop and stay. “

House Resolution 30 called for a nationwide referendum asking voters to approve a “limited number” of casino resorts. If two-thirds of the State House and Senate vote in favor of the constitutional amendment, it would end up on the statewide ballot in November next year.

While previous efforts to get casino gambling through lawmakers have failed, Lackey said Georgia’s economic plight is doing differently this year amid the coronavirus pandemic. Casinos offer tens of thousands of jobs – both temporary and permanent – and hundreds of millions of dollars in new investments, he said.

“In the past, Georgia had very low unemployment and very high tax revenues,” said Lackey. “We’re not doing it now. We need jobs and increase tax revenues. “

Pursuant to House Resolution 30, a portion of the proceeds from casinos would be used for the HOPE Scholarship and other study and grant programs at public and private colleges and universities, and at the Technical College System of Georgia locations.

While Georgia Lottery Corp. has just reported record profits for the final six months of 2020, lottery ticket sales are failing to keep pace with the demand for scholarships, which has opened a hole in HOPE funding of $ 300 million, Rep. Ron said Stephens. R-Savannah, the main sponsor of the resolution.

For Stephens and other supporters, the need to support the HOPE program is a powerful argument in favor of legalizing casinos.

Stephens said another benefit of the legislation is that casinos will not be able to set up business where they are not wanted. If voters across the country approve the constitutional amendment, a second local vote would be required to establish a casino in a city or county. This is the same requirement that the General Assembly made on the Sunday sale of alcohol 10 years ago.

“Citizens have to ask about it before it is even considered,” said Stephens.

Proponents of legalized gambling have a head start in selling Lavonia, Columbus, and Midway in casinos. City councils in all three communities have endorsed resort casinos to be their center.

In Lavonia, Lackey’s company has a 500-acre property on Hartwell Lake under a lease. About 8.6 million people live within a two-hour drive, and 37.6 million can get there within five hours.

“It would be a perfect place,” said Alan Powell Rep., R-Hartwell, another co-founder of House Resolution 30.

Metro-Atlanta’s six million residents have easy access to Columbus via freeways 20 and 185, and the city is on a popular route to the Gulf Coast beaches.

The proposed casino site in Midway is adjacent to and east of I-95. Up to five million people live within a two-hour drive.

“It’s basically suburb of Savannah,” Lackey said.

The House has not yet held a hearing on House Resolution 30.

Powell said the casino move should be combined with legislative proposals to legalize sports betting and pari-mutuel betting on horse racing in a huge constitutional amendment. As it stands now, a sports betting act in front of the house is in the form of a statute rather than a constitutional amendment.

“Gambling is gambling whether it’s sports betting, target casinos, or horse racing,” Powell said.

There’s also Governor Brian Kemp to consider. The governor is “not a big fan” of the legalization of gambling in Georgia and could veto anything that emerges from the general assembly.

However, constitutional amendments bypass the governor and go straight to the electorate.

Surveys have shown that the public strongly supports legalized gambling.

“You are ready to go,” said Stephens.

“We’ve let that linger too long,” added Smyre. “It’s time to fish or cut bait.”