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OWENS: It’s time to decide how you feel about casinos

Last week, I spent time at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta talking with legislators and meeting with people about some of the items on the legislative agenda this season.

There are a few state House and Senate bills that many people in Savannah are watching closely, because of how they may affect their businesses.

In particular, whether or not Georgia would allow casinos.

The establishment of casinos, or destination resorts as they’re called in the proposed bills, has been an idea discussed for several years in Georgia.

In this legislative session, Representative Ron Stephens has introduced House Bill 158, which would allow for the establishment of up to two casinos in the state.

If the bill passes in the General Assembly this legislative session, then it will be up to Georgia voters to choose to pass a constitutional amendment in the November 2018 election to allow for the facilities.

At the Tourism Leadership Council, we field a monthly poll to our members to find out what’s affecting their business and how they feel about issues. As a membership and advocacy organization, we use this information to determine where and how we reach out.

So, we asked our membership to weigh in on the topic with this question: Do you believe that adding a gaming-type facility would be a positive thing for the Savannah/Chatham County area?

We found the results to be a bit of a mixed bag. The yes or no question offers little context, which is why we further drill down by asking for comments to accompany an answer.

The slim majority of respondents answered that such facilities would not have a positive effect in our area. They felt that gaming-type facilities should not be constructed in Chatham County.

The comments to the survey offered a bit of perspective; we found that some felt that crime and loitering would accompany these types of places. And, that Savannah did not need to add to the crime and perception of crime that spates our city.

There was a strong sentiment among these tourism businesses that felt Savannah has a visitor demographic that does not overlap with the demographic of those who might frequent casinos. Inevitably it would mean an overcrowding of visitors that would harm the overall health of Savannah.

In reviewing the comments, most believed that a gaming facility would not be a negative for the state of Georgia, as a whole, but did not want the facility in the historic district or on Hutchinson Island.

Further, quite a few said they’d change their negative opinion to a positive position so long as the city could control where the facility could be placed.

On the other side, there was a smaller number of respondents that said yes, gaming facilities would be a good thing.

The comments offered further context. People stated in support that it might bring added tax revenue and jobs from which many could benefit.

Some saw more people visiting Savannah as a benefit to showcase the city as a “historic and happening” place.

Last week in the Savannah Morning News article, “Savannah eyed for possible resort as Chatham lawmaker pushes gambling bill,” Representative Stephens was quoted saying Hutchinson Island was no longer being seriously considered.

Instead, the article states that of the two resorts that would be allowed, one might go in the Interstate 95 corridor and the other in the Atlanta area.

At the time of this writing, the Atlanta Journal Constitution has a 34 percent chance that this bill will pass and be sent to the Georgia voters to decide. Should this bill fail, I believe we will see different iterations on the same topic come before the General Assembly in future legislative sessions.

What do you think? Will a “destination resort” in Chatham County affect you and your business? Would that potential affect be positive or negative? It is an important question to ask yourself. And, it’s important to think about these issues that affect your business so you can be a part of the discussion.

Michael Owens is president/CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council, the largest non-profit trade organization that supports and represents the tourism community. Contact Owens at michael@tourismleadershipcouncil.com or by calling 912-232-1223.

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