Casinos in Atlanta? (Flavor of the Week)

casino

Casinos in Atlanta?

Ok so a month ago the AJC revealed that MGM has been looking towards Atlanta for a potential city to expand their gaming based business. They wish to place a casino resort somewhere in and around the downtown area but as of right now, casino style gambling is not allowed in the state of Georgia. Well, a week later, Nathan Deal caused a political stir by essentially stating that if the people of Georgia wish to have expanded gambling in the state then even though he would not sign legislation for expanded gambling, he also would not veto any legislation brought to his desk. This is a crucial turn of events because if legislation sits on the governor’s desk for 40 days without action being taken then it automatically becomes law.

On the heels of this slight change of heart which allows for the potential of expanded gambling including casinos and racetracks, I’ve decided to list the pros and cons specifically for the state of Georgia when it comes to increasing its gaming profile. I will not try to sway you either direction on this subject, I’m simply laying out what I’ve found to be significant points in accordance to gambling in the state of Georgia. Take or leave the information as you will…

 

CRIME – “Casinos, Crime and Community Cost” is a scholarly research paper written by Earl Grinols of Baylor University, David Mustard from the University of Georgia & Cynthia Dilley from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. For their research they followed all 3,165 established counties in the United States between the years 1977-1996. During these years they found that the number of crimes increased/were statistically larger in communities with casinos that allowed significant gambling. This is normally the paper anti-gaming organizations refer to when arguing against the expansion of gambling. But there is a slight issue with the report that has been noted before…

Though it is true that crime increases or is higher in areas around casinos, the crime rate actually remains the same or is lower in comparison to areas without casinos. The reason for this is because casino studies rarely factor in the increased number of visitors to a community due to the casino. The tourists’ population is not factored into the final crime rate percentage but when it is included the crime rate drops. Crime naturally increases when the population in an area increases (more people = more crime) but since there is a higher police presence around casinos, the actual crime rate drops in accordance to the increased tourists’ population. So do casinos bring more crime to a community? Yes…but it’s only because they bring in more people. You are just as safe in communities with casinos as you are in communities without casinos.

 

ADDICTION – There’s no getting around it, gambling addiction is real and it can become a serious problem for addicts and their families. But, just like alcoholism, it affects a small percentage of the population. Two-three percent of Americans meet the criteria for problem gamblers and youth are two to three times more likely to develop an addiction as 6% of college age students have a gambling problem. Georgia State University has noted that 50% of problem gamblers commit crimes and 73% of those incarcerated are problem gamblers (not to say they are in jail due to gambling related incidents).

These are alarming statistics and should not be ignored but they are along the same lines as alcohol addiction. In general, people who are alcoholics overlap with those who are addicted to gambling. People who possess addictive personalities generally express antisocial behavioral tendencies. Alcohol and gambling are outlets for a pre-existing condition but you can argue, if those outlets were not readily available then the addictions would not be triggered. Of course it’s easy to see that in order to become an alcoholic you need alcohol; the same is true with gambling.

And since gambling, like alcohol abuse, hits our youth harder than the rest of the population, we should be wary of where we place casinos, how we regulate/limit consumer gambling and who/how we advertise gambling in a community. The overall percentage of problem gamblers is still minute but we need to do our best at assisting and preventing an increase in this number as much as possible for the sake of the families that suffer along with the addicts.

 

Economic Impact/HOPE Scholarship – The extremely rare circumstances of Las Vegas not withstanding…casinos, generally, are not erected to build cities. Meaning, they may provide an additional source of tax revenue but they will not serve as an anchor to build a community around. Businesses, restaurants and retails are not often purposely built around casinos because, in general, casinos absorb all the dispensable income from the consumer base. When you visit a casino you go to spend all the money at one place and that money is not spread to the surrounding establishments in the area. But casinos do provide plenty of jobs (although low wage) that would not otherwise exist.

But in the case of Atlanta, if a casino were placed downtown the intention wouldn’t focus on attracting more foot traffic/business; the casino would serve as an additional form of entertainment in an area already heavy in tourist traffic. With the World of Coke, Olympic Centennial Park, CNN Center, College Football Hall of Fame, Georgia Aquarium, Georgia World Congress Center, Center for Human & Civil RightsAtlanta Skyview and the plethora of big time sporting events held in the Georgia Dome, Philips Arena and soon to be Atlanta Falcons New Stadium, downtown is integral to making Atlanta the 7th most visited city in the US. Not only that but it ranks 4th in conventions held. A casino has never been needed to attract tourists to Atlanta but one could be used as an additional entertainment outlet for those who already visit. But the question is why should we add a casino…the HOPE scholarship.

Nathan Deal has had to tighten the qualifications for HOPE scholarship recipients due to a steady increase in student enrollment and rising cost of tuition. For those who are unfamiliar, the HOPE scholarship uses receipts from the Georgia Lottery to help students with the cost of attending college. I am a beneficiary of this scholarship and it has helped many low income students earn a degree they would not otherwise have the financial means/backing to earn. State leaders believe that placing casinos in Georgia could provide an additional $250 million dollars to HOPE scholarship coffers. If that’s an accurate estimation, it is an amount and path worth considering.

The importance of education in a community is multi-fold. Not only does it help students earn the prerequisite degree to enter the business world but a high talent pool of workers also attracts and is an incentive for companies to stay in a city/community. Recruiting qualified workers is an under-appreciated aspect of running a successful business and this job is made easier when you are headquartered in an area that already has an abundance of educated workers.

Georgia should also be aware of the decreasing revenues of current casinos due to over-saturation of the market. During the Recession so many communities turned to casinos as a way to jump start their economies that the businesses began to cannibalize one another’s earnings. But this shouldn’t be a concern to the Atlanta market or Georgia, provided we do not open too many casinos.

Right now the tentative plans are to open six expanded gambling establishments including one in Savannah, two potentially in the Atlanta metro area and one racetrack (presumably somewhere northwest of Atlanta). I personally feel one casino in the metro area is enough, especially starting off. If the revenue brought in by that establishment justifies opening another casino then do so but not until after a number of years of proven earnings. A racetrack is a good idea too because it is a uniquely different venture from the typical casino and provides a varying brand of entertainment. A gaming unit in Savannah also makes sense because of the port and expected increase in business due to the deepening of the port.

 

The Gulch/ResortThe Gulch…an asphalt desert occupied by commuting vehicles by the day and life draining emptiness at night. It is a bleak place to visit not because of crime or homelessness but because of the egregious lack of investment in such a prime piece of property smack dab in the middle of downtown. It is located directly across the street from Philips Arena and what will be, the new Falcons Stadium. But yet, absolutely no consideration has been given to this plot of land besides the pie-in-the-sky multimodal passenger terminal idea floated a few years back. If you want a city to feel like a true city with bustling life, you cannot leave a plot of land like this undeveloped.

Granted, there has been little reason to develop this land due to the distinct lack of downtown residents to support nightlife downtown but that all is beginning to change. With the purchase and soon to be redevelopment of Underground, the rising downtown occupancy of Georgia State students and plans for other apartments in the area, now is the time to take advantage of the emerging downtown market. Atlantans need more than a place to stay, they require a place to live and play (people staying in hotels downtown probably wouldn’t mind this either).

An all-encompassing entertainment resort is just the thing to occupy The Gulch and provide a foundation for nightlife in the downtown district. Gambling and casinos are not necessarily a prerequisite for such an establishment but you do need a large investment to get things going and a resort would be close to perfect IF operated with the consideration of the surrounding area.

Keep in mind that the term resort could refer to all types of different forms of entertainment and is not a de facto reference to gambling and casinos. There are plenty of resorts that are not based on gambling at all (Disney World comes to mind) but the caveat with Atlanta is that this particular resort MUST be open to the community. And by that I mean it must lend itself to being integrated into the community so that visitors are encouraged to travel freely to and from the various tourist spots in downtown and for fans coming to watch sporting events. The resort needs to be less a huge isolated monstrosity of a building and more a zero mile post establishing the foundation for a new Atlanta entertainment district.

MGM must make this building less about gambling and more about the various other amenities and forms of entertainment a resort, potentially, could provide. Multiple restaurants, casual lounges and bars for spending time and hanging out, would be MGM’s best bet to get a foothold into the state of Georgia and the Atlanta community. Do not just build a resort to parasitically suck away our time, income and souls but give us a district where Atlantans and visitors can connect, embrace and feel alive.

 

If you enjoyed this post please check out my thoughts on the Confederate Battle Flag and my review of the Netflix series Sense8. Also, sign up for my bi-weekly Flavor of the Week blog post and like Soul of Suw on Facebook.

1 Comments

  1. Pingback: Just Atlanta News / Linkage: MARTA Devotees; Casino Prospects; Lodging Popularity

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