For the last four years, Georgia has been named the No. 1 state in the country to do business due to fiscally conservative and pro-business policies crafted by the General Assembly.
Despite our state’s economic success, the rising cost of college in Georgia is making it difficult for us to produce top-tier talent. Many Georgia students rely on the HOPE scholarship to fund their education, yet funding for the scholarship has struggled to keep up with increasing demands. HOPE scholarship award amounts have gradually decreased over time, leaving students struggling to fund college expenses.
To address this issue, we have introduced the Destination Resort Act. House Bill 158 and Senate Bill 79, companion bills which make up the Destination Resort Act, would allow for the legal operation of two mixed-use developments in Georgia consisting of resort-style gaming facilities, luxury shops, dining and convention and entertainment facilities. This legislation would generate much-needed funds for the HOPE scholarship, create jobs and further contribute to our state’s economy and tourism industry. Most importantly, Georgia voters would ultimately have the final say as to whether Georgia is ready for destination resorts or not.
The Destination Resort Act would impose a 20 percent tax on these resorts that would be directly reinvested in Georgia’s education and healthcare systems to fund the HOPE scholarship, other needs-based scholarships and rural healthcare initiatives.
Georgia is losing millions of dollars in revenue to our neighboring states that operate destination resorts or gaming facilities, but with this legislation, an estimated $200 million to $300 million annually in lost revenue could remain in our state benefiting Georgians and allowing us to remain competitive with other Southern states.
Under the Destination Resort Act, one resort would be located in a county in the metro Atlanta area with a population of more than 650,000 people and an investment of at least $2 billion. This facility would include a hotel with at least 1,000 rooms and create approximately 5,000 local jobs. The second resort would be located in a secondary market with a population of at least 180,000, include an investment of at least $450 million and generate roughly 2,000 local jobs. Both resorts would be privately funded – not a single taxpayer dollar would be spent on the construction or operation of either resort.
We want our resorts to include endless amenities providing for entertainment day or night, much like the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh. In a survey of residents who live in the Rivers Casino neighborhood, 24.5 percent said the casino has had a positive impact on their life and neighborhood, while only 6 percent said it negatively affected them. Furthermore, the Nevada Gaming Control Board has found that non-gaming revenue is at its highest level, surpassing gaming revenue and accounting for approximately 60 percent of the total revenue generated by destination resorts.
Opponents of this legislation have falsely claimed that crime rates will increase in the cities where resorts are located. However, statistically, crime rates have actually decreased in areas surrounding destination resorts. In an article published in Security Journal, criminologists examined 96 months’ of crime incident data in Philadelphia and found that crime decreased in this area after its facility, SugarHouse, opened. Resorts typically employ private security personnel both in and around their facilities, and as a result, local law enforcement officers are available to focus their efforts on other nearby areas of need.
Local municipalities will also reap tremendous benefits from the establishment of destination resorts. With the passage of the Destination Resort Act, Georgia will experience remarkable economic growth as residents and tourists alike enjoy the amenities these resorts have to offer. Those who visit destination resorts are likely to spend time exploring other local attractions and restaurants during their time at the resort.
In the case of the Rivers Casino, 24.5 percent of survey participants say the casino positively affected business in their neighborhood, while only 3.6 percent thought the casino had a negative effect on businesses. All in all, this means more money being spent at Georgia businesses.
We have a lot of people traveling through Georgia on their way to a final destination. With this legislation, we have an opportunity for Georgia to become the final destination and no longer just a stopover on the way to somewhere else. With the ability to promote economic development, increase jobs, tourism and contribute funding towards our state’s HOPE and needs-based scholarships, among many other benefits, the Destination Resort Act is a win-win for Georgia.
State Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, and State Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah.