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Georgians deserve chance to vote on economic prospects

The Georgia Legislature is currently debating whether to give us the opportunity to vote on legalizing destination casino resorts. While discussing the pros and cons of casino gaming, we cannot lose sight that destination resorts would help improve Georgia’s economy.

Georgians have the ability to, and do, drive to North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi to visit their casinos. The AJC reported Georgians spend upwards of $600 million a year at casinos in neighboring states. This figure doesn’t include the money Georgians spend there for hotel rooms, gas, restaurants and local attractions.

According to the American Gaming Association, the average casino in Mississippi employs nine individuals for every $1 million of casino revenue. This means every year, Georgians spend enough money at out-of-state casinos to support more than 5,000 jobs. With each passing year of inactivity, Georgia loses.

Tourism is Georgia’s fifth-largest employment sector. In 2015, we welcomed more than 100 million visitors, creating an unprecedented economic impact of $59 billion and contributing $3 billion in taxes to the state. Without strong tourism, the average Georgia family would need to contribute more than $800 a year in additional taxes to make up for the lost revenue.

In 2015, over 51 million visitors spent an estimated $15 billion while visiting Atlanta, creating employment for over 250,000 people. The Georgia World Congress Center alone contributed roughly $1 billion in economic impact while hosting almost a million attendees for 200 trade shows, conventions, and meetings. Because each attendee represents an impact of $900, conventions and other business groups provide Atlanta an opportunity to expand its economic reach and attract out-of-state spending.

The $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor in Prince George’s County, Maryland, is an example of how resort developments attract conventions and create jobs. In December 2016, MGM National Harbor opened, and nearby Gaylord Convention Center and Resort recognized the attractiveness of a destination casino resort as an amenity and attraction for convention planners and attendees. Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority found that attendance at rotating shows increases by 8 percent when held in Las Vegas. In anticipation of this increase, the Gaylord broke ground on a $20 million ballroom expansion in August 2016.

MGM National Harbor created more than 3,600 careers in more than 150 different job types, including traditional hospitality roles as well as graphic designers, accountants, engineers and other specializations. The majority of jobs at MGM National Harbor simply required a GED.

Georgians have a strong history of voicing our opinions and voting to decide what we believe is best for our families. In 1992, we voted to form the Lottery, creating the HOPE Scholarship program. I worked with Gov. Zell Miller to pass the Georgia Lottery for Education Act because I believed in what it meant for the people of Georgia. I believe in what the HOPE scholarship offered to Georgia’s families. Without that vote, thousands of our students would be without a path forward into their futures. Because people were allowed to vote, Georgia created a world-class educational program that has allowed thousands of students to successfully attend college and university every year.

We made the decision in 1992, and if the Legislature allows us to vote on a constitutional amendment again, we will decide in November 2018 if destination casino resorts are right for Georgia. The conversation should not be seen as only a debate on destination casino resorts. It is a debate on whether Georgia voters should have the right to grow their own economy, create their own jobs, and make their own choices through their vote.

Andrew Young is a former Ambassador to the United Nations and mayor of Atlanta.

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