Augusta Lawmaker Believes His City Has an Advantage in a Georgia Casino Licensing Process
A lawmaker from Augusta said his city is on a short list of potential casino sites, according to a bill being sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens. The legislator, State Rep. Brian Prince of Augusta, said the gaming bill calls for two casinos in the state.
Brian Prince said August is well-placed to win such a competition, because of its proximity to the Carolinas.
Rep. Prince said, “Augusta is in the mix. What’s great about Augusta is we’re not just drawing from the state of Georgia. We have South Carolina right across the bridge and North Carolina less than two hours away.”
Georgia Casino Locations
Because South Carolina and North Carolina have few gaming destinations, proximity to those populations would be an advantage. Ultimately, Augusta is going to be competing against three other comparable cities. The coastal Georgia city will not have to compete with Atlanta, though.
One casino would be placed in Atlanta. The other casino would be allotted either to Savannah, Columbus, Macon, or Augusta. A full licensing process would involve casino companies and real estate developers submitting applications for a casino license.
Georgia Casino Licensing Process
An application fee likely would be charged for the prospective developers. The applicants would submit a plan to develop a casino in one of the cities on the potential list. Multiple applicants likely would submit bids for the Atlanta area, while one or more applicants might submit bids for the outlying cities.
So far, two major Las Vegas casino companies, MGM Resorts and Las Vegas Sands, have indicated they have an interest in building a Georgia casino. MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren once toured Atlanta and Athens for potential casino sites. Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson also toured Atlanta for potential casino locations.
2016 Casino Bill
That was before Ron Stephens’ plan was known. A similar bill was put forward by Stephens in 2016, but that proposal contained provisions for six casinos. After the 2016 casino bill failed to gain support in the legislature, proponents chose to scale back the plans for 2017.
Partnering with the Right Developer
It would be important for a city like Augusta to take the initiative. Because casino companies choose a city for their development, it would be important for city leaders to lure one of the top gaming companies to build in their city. Luring Las Vegas Sands, the largest casino company in the world, would give a city a major advantage in most situations.
Massachusetts Licensing Process
For instance, MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts won a highly competive licensing process in Massachusetts. Those two major companies were challenged by large developers like Caesars Entertainment and Mohegan Sun, but both of those operators faced huge debt situations at the time. The Massachusetts Gaming Council chose the developers with the best financial backing.
New York Licensing Process
Leaders would need to account for local tastes. In New York State, massive casino companies like Caesars Entertainment and Genting Group lost out to local developers with in-state connections. If Georgia’s gaming regulators decided they want local businesses to build, going against the national and international casino companies might be an advantage.
Of course, none of that matters, if Ron Stephens, Brian Prince, and their peers cannot pass the casino legislation. There is a recent history of failure in passing casino legislation, but proponents think they have the right plan this time around. It should help if Sheldon Adelson and Jim Murren think the plan has enough of a chance to succeed that they lobby and advertise for the legislation.
Harold Jones Gives Support
Senator Harold Jones, a Democrat from Augusta, said he believes the casino bill has a chance to succeed. Sen. Jones said the bill has “tremendous economic potential for Augusta“, though he warned that the plans would need to appeal to southernors.
Jones said a casino “has to be something that attracts persons from at least the southeast.”
Harold Jones also has a marijuana bill on the docket. Jones wants to reduce the penalty for a half-ounce of marijuana to a misdemeanour. Last year, he asked for the law to reduce the penalty for a full ounce, but that measure failed. The state senator said he is trying to bring Georgia’s marijuana laws in line with other states, and he is seeking to reduce its list of citizens on probation — which is one of the highest rates in the nation.
February 23 Update: Meeting Canceled
The Thursday, February 23rd meeting of a committee to discuss the 2017 Georgia casino bill was canceled. Early reports are the gambling bill’s future is now in doubt. This story is developing, so we’ll report when more is known.
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