POLL | Voters want casinos for HOPE | News
NORCROSS, Ga. -- An 11Alive exclusive poll conducted by SurveyUSA showed 56% of likely voters said they would support casino-style video lottery terminals to raise money for the HOPE Scholarship Program.
That support reaches across almost every demographic; even voters who identify themselves as "conservative" and "evangelical" approve.
POLL | See the results
Developer Dan O'Leary has been pushing for casino-style gambling in Georgia for eight years. Back then, he raised the red flag about dwindling funding for the HOPE Scholarship.
"Our project is the only silver bullet that I'm aware of, without any new legislation, that can save the HOPE Scholarship," he said.
RELATED | O'Leary's proposal
Originally, O'Leary had planned to house the casino at Underground Atlanta. Strong opposition from city leaders including Mayor Kasim Reed pushed him to look elsewhere. He found a new location and new support in Gwinnett County.
O'Leary has 122 acres under contract. Right now, the space houses fiber optics company, OFS. He plans to hire 1,000 construction workers to build a $1 billion complex.
The casino would include a 5,000-seat performance venue, 1,500-room hotel, luxury spa and restaurants. At the center of it all: a casino floor with 7,500 video lottery machines. There will be no game tables, slot machines, or sports betting.
"Our project, if you look at it, has more restrictions and more regulations than any other form of gaming than the lottery currently does right now," O'Leary said. For example, only people 21 years and up would be allowed in the casino. The age for buying a lottery ticket is 18 years old.
One of his most passionate arguments comes from a map, showing Georgia is one of only eight states without a casino.
Every year, Georgians spend an estimated $200 million at gaming venues outside of the state. North Carolina, Mississippi and Florida count metro Atlanta among their best markets for traveling gamblers.
The biggest opposition to the casino-style gambling comes from a group called the Georgia Family Council. Vice President of Public Policy Eric Cochling said they advocate for legislation that supports traditional family values. They're often involved in education issues, but say this is not the way to save HOPE. Cochling said a destination casino in Gwinnett would be bad for that community, and bad for Georgia families.
RELATED | Ga. Family Council's opposition points
"It's the question of the means, whether the means justify the ends," Cochling said. He points to Atlantic City where the number of crimes within a thirty-mile radius increased 100%. He also objects to the government connection. The Georgia lottery board would own and maintain the machines, allowed under current Georgia law. Everything else would be privately funded.
"What you have here, is our government encouraging people to gamble with the hopes of some sort of get rich quick possibility -- a dream of getting rich and having an easy life, at the expense of the poor," Cochling said.
They are the two main players in this debate. But both groups are perplexed by the ballot question, unsure of who pushed for it and why.
O'Leary thinks it was designed to fail because of the wording (the ballot question does not include the terminology "video lottery terminals). Cochling thinks it will pass because of public sentiment over HOPE. The ballot question is a gamble for both sides.
"There's not this widespread outcry against it," Cochling said.
"We wouldn't work on this for eight years if we didn't think there was tremendous support for it," O'Leary said.
This is a non-binding question on the ballot, but it could be an important political tool in the future to kill or give life to the gambling debate. The Georgia Lottery board has to approve it. They said they're looking to local lawmakers for guidance on what they want for the state.