A casino in downtown Atlanta? A major resort company is expressing interest and it is creating quite a buzz around town.
Representatives of MGM Resorts International are being very tight-lipped about it, but Clark Dumont, a spokesperson for the company, confirmed to FOX 5 News that they have a "extremely preliminary" interest in developing a property in the downtown area.
"We have no active discussions on any sites," he said via e-mail. "The legislative and voter deliberation and voting process, for which we have deep respect, need to occur first."
However, they admit there are a lot of hurdles before a little taste of Las Vegas could even think about becoming a reality in Atlanta. The first being the state of Georgia would need to make casinos legal.
State lawmakers have been toying with the idea of allowing casinos over the past few years, including a plan a few years ago to allow gambling in Underground Atlanta. State Rep. Ron Stephens (R), of Savannah, said he will take up the issue again next year drafting the Hope Preservation Act of 2015, which would include legislation to allow for a constitutional amendment to allow casinos and horse-race betting in Georgia. Some lawmakers believe the move could raise millions for the HOPE Scholarship, not to mention the jobs and other benefits.
Stephens says the caliber of the hotel and resort MGM could create would generate possibly $250 million a year for the HOPE Scholarship.
But the move is not without strong opposition. The Georgia Baptist Convention issued the following statement about legalizing casinos in the state:
"Creating jobs and raising funds for education is a bad rationale to attempt to legalize immoral behavior in our state. We cannot become sold on the idea that the end justifies the means. It is as if many have become convinced that we can put money over morality and somehow morality will win out."
Stephens said revenue generated from casino profits would be used to combat gambling addiction and other social concerns that could arise from gambling.
The road to a casino in downtown Atlanta would be lengthy. Stephens said the process would require a statewide constitutional ballot after legislation is passed; local taxing authorities must then approve of referendums, and municipalities would create referendums on whether a casino should be allowed in a specific area.
But what if the Georgia Legislature does change its mind and a project like this does move forward? It is unclear how similar it would be to places like in Las Vegas such as the Mirage, the Bellagio, or even the MGM Grand itself. One may have to look at its properties in Detroit, Reno, Tunica, and Biloxi to see how it would fit into downtown Atlanta.
Where would it go? Lawmakers said they have talked to MGM officials about the possibility. Stephens, who says he has been in talks with MGM officials, could only confirm to FOX 5 News that the interest for a location is in downtown Atlanta, which he said offers undeveloped prime real estate such as the Gulch near Philips Arena. Some reports have even suggested that Turner Field could be among the locations, but he would not elaborate.