Study: Casinos could net nearly $1 billion for Ga.

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ATLANTA — Casinos at key locations across the state could generate nearly $1 billion annually, a study released Thursday by the Georgia Lottery Corp. shows.

The study, commissioned by the lottery, shows that casinos with video machines in metro Atlanta, Savannah and Jekyll Island could produce the revenue if they opened by 2014. A casino in downtown Atlanta could bring in nearly $800 million a year if it had 5,000 machines, the study found.

A casino in Savannah could generate $100 million. The $91,000 study was produced by the New Jersey-based Spectrum Gaming Group, an independent research firm.

“Georgia, in particular the Atlanta metropolitan area, would be viewed by the gaming industry as one of the most prized opportunities in North America, largely because it has one of the largest, most affluent, untapped markets, with excellent air and highway access,” the study said.

Groups have pushed for expanding the state’s gaming industry after the lottery started in 1992. Georgia law doesn’t specifically ban video lottery terminals – a type of machine connected to a centralized system.

Experts estimate the state has between 10,000 and 20,000 illegal video gambling machines already in operation. The machines bring in about $200,000 each week and pay out about half that, the study found.

But casino gambling would face a cool reception in the Republican-led Legislature. Gov. Nathan Deal’s spokesman, Brian Robinson, said the Republican will not support casinos.

“He has stated repeatedly that there will not be an expansion of gambling under his watch,” Robinson said.

In August, Deal ordered the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to crack down on illegal gambling dens masquerading as Internet cafes across the state. At the time, he said up to 100 active gambling sites have set up shop in Georgia and investigators believe companies are eyeing hundreds more locations throughout the state.

A spokesman for state House Speaker David Ralston declined comment, saying he had not read the report.

Georgia lottery board chairman Jimmy Braswell said the board commissioned the study to ensure lawmakers looking at the issue of video gaming have accurate information.

“The study shows a potential for a large amount of money, however, there are other social and economic issues to consider,” Braswell said in a statement. “For this reason, we have always viewed this concept as a public policy matter. The importance of the report is to bring some clarity to the issue through an independent study.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported details of the casino study.

Supporters say casinos could generate extra money for the financially strapped HOPE scholarship and prekindergarten programs, which saw massive cuts this year after expenses began outpacing ticket sales.

“This was strictly a way of wanting to see HOPE and pre-K back to the roles they have historically played, and the only way to do that was raise more money,” said Dave Garrett, who leads the HOPE 20/20 Coalition. “The existing gaming structure wasn’t going to allow that to happen.”

In 2009, a developer began pushing to install a casino at Underground Atlanta downtown. The lottery board quickly quashed the issue after then-Gov. Sonny Perdue said he wouldn’t support it.

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