MIDWAY, Ga. (WSAV) – After several failed attempts, lawmakers are taking another crack at passing a bill that would legalize casino gambling in Georgia. Supporters of the effort have flagged several sites for development, one being in Midway.
The patch of land sits right off of Interstate 95, a corridor that sees 85,000 vehicles every single day.
“We’ve been kept well abreast of the various efforts to get this casino to a vote,” said Ronald Tolley, the CEO of Liberty County Development Authority.
Tolley says it would be a huge win for the county and support longstanding efforts to diversify its economy.
“We’ve been very blessed with Fort Stewart, but having a casino operation and the various things that come along with that would all be very beneficial to the community, ” said Tolley.
The project will require a constitutional change. The bill, known as House Resolution 30 calls for a statewide referendum asking voters to authorize a “limited number” of casino resorts.
If two-thirds of the state House and Senate vote in favor, it would be on the ballot in November of next year.
“If the state referendum passes any place that they want to go will have to pass a local referendum of invitation,” said Rep. Al Williams, who represents District 168, where the casino would be located.
Williams says it’s up to the people to decide. Those with moral objections don’t have to gamble, he says, but can still reap the benefits.
He says the project could bring 800 to 1,200 permanent jobs with an average income of $42,000 a year plus benefits.
“We could be looking at a 25 to 35% cut in property taxes,” said Williams. “If you’re against it, then refuse your 30% cut and tell them, ‘You keep this.'”
William says 70% of Georgians have reported they want the right to vote on the bill. Tolley says if the referendum reaches Liberty County, he’s confident it will pass.
“I think in Liberty County, it would certainly pass because most people know that it’s good to offer jobs for people,” Tolley said. “It helps them, their families and the overall community.”
Commercial real estate executive Rick Lackey is involved in the project. He says only about 10% of the property will be dedicated to gambling. The other 90% will include, shops, restaurants and lodging.
His hope for the location is to attract those traveling to Florida or other vacation destinations.
“We want to give them a place to stop and stay for a few nights,” said Lackey.
Lackey has worked alongside Rep. Ron Stephens, another major sponsor of the bill. Stephens says under House Resolution 30, a portion of the proceeds from casinos would go toward the HOPE Scholarship and other tuition and grant programs.
“The revenue that comes off of this would continue to flow as it does today through the lottery commission into the student finance,” said Stephens, who represents the 164th District.
A bill that would legalize sports betting is being heard in the House Wednesday. Stephens says it’s a pre-cursor to legalizing gambling in Georgia.
“It’s in the economic development committee today,” said Stephens, “if it comes out it’ll be eligible for rules tomorrow and I hope to get it on the floor next week.”
The bill mandates The Georgia Lottery Corp., which would receive tax revenue from sports betting profit, license at least six companies to offer sports betting in the Peach State.
Stephens says Midway is not the only site on their radar for a casino. He says they’ve identified at least six prospective locations, including one in Savannah.