Five ‘tells’ that casino gambling is bad for Georgia

If you’ve played much poker, you’re familiar with the concept of a “tell.”

A tell is a signal that a card player sends unconsciously to his or her opponents, revealing his true state of mind. At a moment when a player wants to project confidence, he might suddenly start to avoid eye contact or fiddle with his chips. The sign of nervousness gives him away.

Well, in their dalliance with casino gambling in Georgia, state legislators are full of tells and as nervous as two rock-solid Baptists standing in the same liquor-store line.

Tell No. 1: If you’re too ashamed to face what you’re about to do, maybe you shouldn’t do it. Senate Bill 79, which allows construction of two Georgia casinos — a large, $2 billion casino in metro Atlanta, and a smaller, $450 million casino elsewhere — has been stripped of any mention of casinos. As Sen. Brandon Beach, its sponsor, explained to the AJC, “When we pared it back down to two ‘destination resorts’ — and we struck that word ‘casino’; we’re not even using the word — that’s more appealing to my colleagues.”

Tell No. 2: As a result, SB 79 is titled the “Destination Resort Act,” but the term “destination resort” is more than a euphemism. It’s an outright deception, designed to mislead people into thinking that most of those who will be gambling away their paychecks in Georgia will be tourists from out of state, and thus not our problem.

They will be our problem. Central Atlanta Progress, the downtown business group with every incentive to enhance tourism, recently commissioned a major study that found that just 5.9 percent of gaming revenue in metro Atlanta would come from outside the state. The estimate makes a lot of sense. After all, 42 states already have casinos: Why would people flock here to do what they can already do at home? And when casino lobbyists gush about Georgia as a largely untapped market, they’re basically confirming CAP’s analysis. They want to do business here because they want access to people who don’t have other casinos easily available.

Tell No. 3: Under SB 79, casinos will pay the state of Georgia just 20 percent of gross revenue, which would be well below the national average of 30 percent. That tells you one of two things: Either the legislation as now written is designed to heavily favor the industry, not the state, or the Georgia market simply isn’t as strong as we’ve been told. If Georgia really is a great potential casino market, then there’s no reason to “slow play” our strong hand by demanding so little.

Tell No. 4: Casino advocates predict 10,000 new jobs, although most would be low-paying service jobs. But they also offer a contradiction: To bolster the argument that casinos will be “destination resorts,” not just gambling houses, SB 79 requires casino-license applicants to demonstrate a plan to generate 60 percent of their revenue from non-gambling sources, such as entertainment, alcohol and food sales.

In other words, the goal is to allow very few dollars to “leak” outside the casino walls to other businesses. With most of the gamblers and most of the money coming from right here in Georgia, it means these “destination resorts” will have to cannibalize customers from existing entertainment and food-service venues, significantly reducing net job creation.

Tell No. 5: And why do supporters of casino gambling talk so much about all the money it will raise, but so little about the fact that it will come from fellow Georgians? That too is a confession, in this case that it’s easier to treat your own constituents as marks than it is to tax them for needed revenue.

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