While much of the Georgia blogosphere, including myself, usually focuses on national politics or the various soap operas playing out in our state government, I did want to bring up an issue that will have an unfortunate impact on my district in Gwinnett County. Last Thursday, a proposed lottery gaming complex proposed for the OFS site in the Gwinnett Village portion of my district was blocked by the Georgia Lottery Board.
Not only would this have created a huge tourist destination in this area and finally redeveloped the mostly abandoned and unnused OFS site at Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Interstate 85, it would have also created the largest lottery retailer in the region. This would provide a much needed infusion of dollars into the economy, as well as into the rapidly vanishing HOPE scholarship.
Replacing the old OFS plant, the facility was going to cost about one billion dollars and include, along with video lottery terminals, a hotel, restaurants, and even a concert ampitheatre. The positives were easy to see: about $350 million going towards HOPE lottery funds, and 2,500 new, permanent jobs, not counting the construction and off-site jobs from economic growth in the air. Nine other states, including Delaware, successfully operate these types of gaming facilities (and yes, they look like casinos, but all the games would be lottery based with no "high stakes poker tables" and the like). If implemented properly, this would have been an overall net gain for folks in the 5th District in Gwinnett, and in Georgia as a whole. Having a diversified economy is an important investment for any county, and the complex would have been the perfect tourism boost. Additional money to cover the shortfalls in our vanishing HOPE program would be welcome and, to be frank, are sorely needed.
However, with this refusal, the signs don't look good for expanding the lottery in Georgia. Governor Deal signaled his opposition earlier in the year stating he opposed “increasing the gambling options in Georgia," when asked about this particular project. Governor Deal has additionally opposed other gaming proposals, such as horse racing and pari-mutuel betting, which would also generate tourism, jobs, and revenue for our states. While the Georgia Lottery Board is technically an independent body, all seven members are appointed by Governor Deal and they clearly got the message. So, it was no surprise that the Lottery Board has refused to have a vote on expanding our lottery to the video terminals that this proposed casino would need.
With the 2009 failure of a proposal to set up a similar complex in Underground Atlanta, we find ourselves at an impasse. HOPE is disappearing, but the Governor and fellow Republicans are refusing to look at any other ways to generate more funds for either HOPE or our colleges and technical schools. $500 million has been cut from higher education budgets in the last three years. There's no effort by this crowd to try and find additional revenue. They are setting up HOPE and our higher education system for failure. We rank last in job creation since the advent of the Great Recession, but are absolutely unwilling to permit the private sector to create the thousands of jobs that increasing lottery options would do.
I've written previously that our state is in a massive budget shortfall and we need to increase revenues. Our state government has already cut many programs to the bone and beyond, but it still hasn't stopped us from being broke. Georgia's tax strategy needs to be a broad-based system that's as flexible as the market, consisting of taxes that are progressive, regressive, and proportional. This proposed casino would have been an integral part of that strategy, if it was being pursued by state leaders.
Unfortunately, there's no backup now that this proposal has failed. While the developer, Dan O'Leary, has vowed to keep on moving forwards, Governor Deal still remains opposed. The governor of Georgia is enormous opposition to have, and he's also representing those in Georgia who still oppose gambling in this state. But, the reality is we already have a lottery. You can't be 'sort of' a virgin, and you can't 'sort of' allow the lottery. Either our state is a lottery state that fosters it so that we can help fund our HOPE scholarship program, or it isn't. Ignoring a system until it fails so you can say "See, I *told* you it wouldn't work." is no way to deal with the higher education situation we have currently.
Since our Governor won't lead, we need to. The work is already starting to happen in this area. Resolutions like HR1640, sponsored by a Republican and urging the Georgia Lottery Board to adopt video lottery terminals, are part of the long process of changing attitudes. It's the same progression that legalizing Sunday sales went through. It's still disappointing to see a well-thought-out and planned proposal be abandoned like this. Georgia needs tax dollars in order to fill our empty coffers and fund programs, like HOPE, that invest in our citizens. We need to realize that a significant amount of money going towards that goal reaps us bountiful rewards.