Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Underground Atlanta gets casino offer

Posted By on Tue, Jan 13, 2009 at 11:49 PM

Folks have long talked about the possibility of gambling at Underground Atlanta, often from the standpoint that legalized gaming may be the only way to make the city-subsidized white-elephant finally solvent and to revive lower downtown. Fulton Commissioner Robb Pitts has kept the issue in the public with frequent pro-gambling statements. And, as recently as mid-November, Mayor Shirley Franklin told state lawmakers she would be willing to explore gambling licenses as a way to generate revenue for the city.

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Well, it looks as if some developer has finally taken the bait. The AJC reports that Underground operator Dan O’Leary has announced that a company is interested in filling the near-dormant mall with 5,000 video slot machines and building a new high-rise hotel onsite.

The project would cost about $450 million and would be expected to generate $600 million in gross annual revenue, half of which might go to the Georgia Lottery Board. Is it a coincidence that the lottery board would have a large role in deciding whether the proposal goes forward?

Actually, the legal hurdles to installing a casino in Underground are not that high. The site is already designated by state law as Georgia's only "special entertainment district," which means that many legal restrictions that apply everywhere else — Sunday alcohol sales, for instance — don't apply there. The city doesn't have the authority to license a casino without state approval, but surprisingly few laws would need to be changed to make it happen.

If there's the will, there's definitely a way.

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