Fountain City back in running for casino as lawmakers continue debate

Fountain City back in running for casino as lawmakers continue debate
(Source: WTVM file)
(Source: WTVM file)
(Source: WTVM file)
(Source: WTVM file)

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Georgia lawmakers continue to flesh out the language in a bill that would potentially legalize casino gambling across the state.

As it stands, State Senate Bill 79 allows room for two casino resorts in Georgia, should lawmakers finally approve it. One is essentially reserved for the Atlanta area.

It's the second casino that's up for grabs to any county with a population over 180,000, leaving the Fountain City to compete with cities like Savannah and Augusta.

Should it become legal, lawmakers project the industry will add 7,500 across the state.

Local leaders like businessman Robert Wright have been pushing for city leaders to fight for a casino, which would be built on the south side of town.

Some residents, like Columbus native Cecil Franklin, want that extra revenue to stay in town.

"People are going to gamble, they always have," he said.  "Why let them go somewhere else to spend money, instead of keeping it here?"

Critics argue, however, opening a casino resort could negatively impact the local economy.

Norman Easterbrook, executive director for the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, said problems may appear in town if the potential resort's business model does not integrate other industries. He added that, in doing research, he found models of casinos in other communities that were engineered to collaborate with other industries, like the arts and dining.

"Why don't we begin now, thinking what those components are in that model," Easterbrook said, "and start to employ them now?"

Ultimately, Easterbrook said, this is an issue the voting public in Columbus should address.

"Should this come to a vote," he said, "will the language be, 'You are voting on gambling,' which is what's in the constitution, or will that somehow be glossed over? We need to be clear on the information that we share."

Both legislators and advocates have been pushing the idea that 70 percent of gaming proceeds would fund the HOPE scholarship.

With this latest version of SB 79,  the percentage has fallen to 50 percent, with 30 percent going to needs-based grants for college and 20 percent delegated to rural health care.

News Leader 9 reached out to local advocates for that casino on the south side of Columbus, but we have not received any recent comments.

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