A local developer called his plan to bring a $1 billion destination gaming facility to Gwinnett County a "silver bullet" that will help save the HOPE scholarship.
But Dan O'Leary's plan went over like a lead balloon when he pitched it Thursday afternoon to the Georgia Lottery Board.
In addition to giving the project's bullet points (video lottery terminals, a hotel, offices, retail and dining, including a restaurant and bar from NFL star Herschel Walker), O'Leary emphasized how the gambling complex could make $350 million annually for the HOPE scholarship and pre-kindergarten.
"Our proposed project is a silver bullet, and it's the only silver bullet that I'm aware of for fully funding both pre-K and HOPE now and for generations to come," he said.
The use of the VLTs needs the approval of the board in order for the project to move forward. The facility would be constructed at the OFS fiber-optic site in unincorporated Norcross, near Jimmy Carter Boulevard and I-85.
At a press conference after the meeting, Georgia Lottery Board Chairman Jimmy Braswell said the board has the authority to approve the use of the VLTs without the Georgia legislature or governor, but they're hesitant to move forward.
"We believe this is public policy decision," said Braswell. "I don't think the Georgia Lottery Corporation needs to step out unilaterally and undertake this project without the appropriate consideration from the elected officials."
Braswell acknowledge that Gov. Deal expressed feelings opposing the expansion of gambling in the state, so the chairman feels that the board needs some degree of support from the governor, the state Senate and the House of Representatives.
In regards to HOPE, Braswell stated that the board is not responsible for saving the scholarship. He explained that there is a supply side and a demand side, which the board can't control.
As for the next step, Braswell said he expects the board to consider it in the future (the next lottery board meeting is in July), but it's currently not on the table.
"As long as the opposition to this concept seems to be as strong as it is right now, I don't see the purpose of putting it on our agenda," said Braswell.
Toby Tatum, a policy analyst for a non-profit education organization in Peachtree Corners called Georgia Family Council, also gave a presentation to explain his opposition to the project.
He provided statistics on three other areas in the country that have had harmful impacts from gambling, and he believes it would have a similar crumbling effect to the Norcross area. Gambling has been correlated to increased divorce rates, crime and gaming addiction, he said, in addition to surrounding shops and restaurants closing.
"Is this what we want for Norcross? Is this what we want for Georgia?" Tatum said. "The concept of a casino or destination gambling is a total departure from how the lottery has been operated today and will generate problems most closely associated with traditional gambling."
CEO and President Ed Sutor of Dover Downs, a gambling complex in Delaware that is similar to O'Leary's proposed site, explained his facility's success in a press conference after the meeting.
After his destination gaming facility opened around 15 years ago, he said, it has spawned economic development in the area. Additionally, he said most customers are the typical white-collar empty-nesters: the age of the average consumer is 58 with an income of $75,000.
Reiterating a point that O'Leary had been making since the get-go, Sutor said that this is not a stereotypical black-jack operation.
"It doesn't look like a Las Vegas casino," he said. "We don't have lots of neon all over the place and burlesque shows and hookers."
Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson was also in attendance and said that he has no concerns on the project and believes it would bring funding to HOPE.
"I think that it's great for the families, not just in our community, but across the state," he said.