Georgia Chamber to declare position on gambling after committee report

The $1.3 billion MGM National Harbor resort in Prince George's County, Md. Source: MGM Resorts International

The $1.3 billion MGM National Harbor resort in Prince George’s County, Md. Source: MGM Resorts International

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce hasn’t formally declared a position on a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize casinos in the state. But the business group is closely watching a joint legislative study committee that’s examining the idea, the chamber’s CEO said Tuesday.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s man in Washington, D.C., Daniel Malloy, caught up with Georgia Chamber Chief Executive Chris Clark during the business group’s annual fly-in to lobby lawmakers at the U.S. Capitol. Clark said the chamber will likely announce its position on casino gambling after the state study committee brings its recommendation forward this winter.

(Malloy has a piece on the battle for the No. 2 leadership post in the U.S. House of Representatives between Roswell Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Price and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., here. The Georgia Chamber group heard speeches Tuesday from both men.)

Casino backers have said legislation that would allow up to six Georgia casinos would create thousands of jobs and could pump $280 million a year into the Georgia Lottery-funded HOPE Scholarship program, which has been curtailed amid rising tuition and student demand.

Legalizing casinos generally hasn’t gone far in Georgia’s legislature, and the proposed constitutional amendment is sure to meet resistance from religious groups and other anti-gambling organizations.

The chamber on Tuesday held its annual trek to Capitol Hill where about 125 members met with lawmakers, including the Georgia congressional delegation. Casinos almost became part of the agenda.

Chamber officials and MGM Resorts International tried in the weeks leading up to the visit to arrange a tour of MGM’s mammoth casino under construction on the edge of the District in Prince George’s County, Md. But Clark said the fly-in schedule was just too packed.

MGM has scouted downtown Atlanta for a $1 billion-plus casino resort and gave input that helped craft the proposed constitutional change that would legalize Las Vegas-style gambling in the Peach State. MGM also recently joined the Georgia and metro Atlanta chambers of commerce as it begins its community, political and business outreach efforts.

MGM isn’t the only gambling and entertainment company gearing up for a casino push, but it’s certainly the most visible to date.

“We’re following the committee hearings back home and once they come out with their recommendations, which I would imagine would be December, maybe January, then we’ll quickly come behind that with our position,” Clark said. “But we have two committees that have been looking at this issue, working. We have been talking to these guys. So we don’t have a formal position yet on it but we’re working toward that first of the year.”

Though the trip didn’t include a stop at the $1.3 billion MGM National Harbor resort, it’s possible the Georgia Chamber big shots got a glimpse of the construction site.

One of the main approaches to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport goes down the middle of the Potomac River and over the casino project. MGM officials have said the project could serve as a model for an Atlanta area resort if lawmakers and voters approve casinos.

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This is not about kids education!