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Atlanta Mayor Skeptical of Casino Legalization, Open to Discussing It

New Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has a lot on her plate, but one of the things she would prefer not to deal with is gambling in her city. In an interview shortly after her inauguration on Tuesday, she expressed said that if it came down to it, she would rather see a casino elsewhere in Georgia.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had the short blurb on Mayor Bottom’s thoughts:

When it comes to casinos, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has a stance similar to that of her predecessor. She’s not a fan. Shortly after her inauguration, she said she was open to the debate about legalized casino gambling, was wary of locating one in Atlanta’s city limits. “I’d prefer that my mother have to drive to casinos,” she said. Her predecessor, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, also said he was concerned that a sprawling casino in the city’s center would have a negative impact. (Greg Bluestein)

Currently, the only legalized gambling in Georgia is the lottery. There has been a push in the last few years by some lawmakers, though, to legalize casino gambling. It doesn’t have a lot of support in the state legislature, but it does have some, which is more than it used to. Polls show that residents of the state are in favor of casinos.

Bills have been introduced the last couple years to open the state up to casino gaming, but they haven’t gone much of anywhere. The idea would be to divide the state into regions, with each region authorized to have a resort-style casino. The largest region, which would contain the Atlanta metro area, would be able to have two. The bill stipulated that the operator of the “primary” casino in the Atlanta region would have to invest at least $ 1 billion and the casino would have to be within 25 miles of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The other properties would require at least a $ 250 million minimum investment.

The reason many want to legalize casino gambling is to help raise money for Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship program. The scholarship was established in 1993 and provided every Georgia high school student who earned at least a 3.0 GPA a tuition scholarship for in-state colleges and universities. It also funds public pre-K programs.

The problem is that Georgia’s Hope Scholarship has been way too popular and has been running low on funds for years. Thus, starting in 2011, the benefits of the scholarship began to be reduced. That year, the scholarship stopped paying for books and school fees. Then, starting in 2015, new “academic vigor” requirements were added, requiring high school students to take more difficult classes. Those requirements have increased each successive year.

MGM Resorts International has been going hard after Georgia. In October 2016, MGM CEO Jim Murren presented a $ 1.4 billion casino plan to the Rotary Club of Atlanta, saying the resort could create 4,000 new jobs.

As one would expect, opinions on casino gambling are mixed. Religious and conservative political groups tend to be against it. Some business leaders and business groups also don’t like it, not on moral grounds, but because they believe a casino would take away business from them.

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