Robb Pitts, during his years as president of the Atlanta City Council, was perpetually sparring with then-Mayor Bill Campbell. The spats had more to do with turf than principles. But there was one issue on which the two men agreed -- not that anyone noticed.
Both Pitts and Campbell, you see, are big enthusiasts for gambling, or "gaming" as the industry flacks like to spin it.
With the former mayor, the passion was pathological. Campbell was clearly much more obsessed by craps and roulette than he was with running a city. And he was enabled by, um, supporters who palmed wallets full of cash to mayoral flunkies during thinly-disguised-as-public-business gambling junkets.
Pitts' affinity is markedly different, and more honorable. Last week, an urbane, tailored and very relaxed Pitts was eating a granola bar in the 20th floor wood-and-English-prints business office near Lenox Square. He's now a Fulton County commissioner -- a renegade and pariah on the board.
Casino gambling "is the solution," says Pitts, thrusting and swishing the granola like a conductor's baton.
Ah, how many gamblers have had that thought? Just one card, one hand, one roll of the dice, one lottery ticket -- and everything will be fixed. What Pitts is touting isn't a personal solution, however. It's a civic remedy, a statewide fix.
Pitts' affection isn't rooted in Campbell-esque addiction. Although he smiles and nods when asked if likes to toss the bones or pull the bandits' arms, his warmth for gambling is fueled by a less personal fire.
Casinos, Pitts asserts, can solve Georgia's many economic woes. "Could this be the answer to Atlanta's sewer crisis?" Pitts muses rhetorically, and answers, "Absolutely."
He adds that the state's HOPE scholarship fund -- whose lottery funding is being outstripped by the booming number of eligible students -- "could find the answer to its shortfalls" with Georgians bellying up to the casino tables.
All it would take is a series of political events so unlikely in Georgia that even Las Vegas handicapper Jimmy the Greek couldn't calculate the astronomical odds. First, Pitts must find legislators to introduce a constitutional amendment to allow casinos. Then, two-thirds of the House and Senate must approve the amendment, followed by a state referendum in which a majority of Georgians must say, hit me, dealer.
The idea is to limit casinos to counties with 800,000 or more population -- which means Fulton. Pitts is floating the idea of turning Underground Atlanta into one casino, and landing another one somewhere else, maybe down by the airport. Unfortunately, Underground isn't likely to make it -- it doesn't have the space or parking the mega-casinos crave. It's the "somewhere else" that intrigues me, because I'd bet the folks from Vegas already know the real estate they want in the Big Peach. Pitts acknowledges conversations with Hilton (which bought the very stinky Bally outfit a few years ago) and Harrah's. The casino industry can be very generous in funding gambling ballot drives -- the last one in Florida outspent the gubernatorial races.
I don't doubt Pitts' sincerity. If there was ever a time when casinos -- with their promise of painless tax revenues -- seem appealing, it's now.
Pitts has a little history with floating the gambling idea, so he knows the uphill climb to legalize casinos. More than two decades ago, he proposed horse tracks with their pari-mutuel wagering. That didn't go far, but he says, "Gambling is still right for this state."
His most compelling argument has to do with developing Atlanta's convention business. "Hey, you come here, spend a day at Stone Mountain, and there's nothing else to do," Pitts observes. "If there was a casino, people would stay that extra day."
He adds an element of alarm -- what if Florida should allow casinos (voters there have thrice trounced pro-casino referenda)? Who would schedule conventions in Atlanta besides the Baptists?
With the state and local governments skimming as much as $200 million from wagers at the Atlanta casinos, critical local needs could be easily paid for, Pitts allows. Thousands of new jobs would be created.
It's all so damn easy.
So far, no legislator has signed on. In fact, no one in city or state government has jumped aboard Pitts' casino bandwagon, but he is undeterred. With the look of a poker player who knows the next card in the deck will make his inside straight, Pitts says, "It can happen."
It can, and it has in other states, so we should think about this idea.
I don't mind this too much: The key to embracing diversity is to be aware…
@question man You seem to be in favor of MARTA winning the contract to operate…
what the hell is going on with lucy? is she fucked, or what?
WHAT ABOUT LUCY