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Lottery board: Support from Gov. needed for proposed gambling site

The current OFS property as shown from above where Dan O'Leary proposed to build a mixed-used entertainment complex.

The current OFS property as shown from above where Dan O'Leary proposed to build a mixed-used entertainment complex.

ATLANTA — The fate of Dan O’Leary’s dream project — the billion-dollar, multi-use facility in Norcross that many have branded a casino — may rest in the hands of Gov. Nathan Deal after all.

O’Leary made a presentation to the Georgia Lottery Corporation’s board of directors Thursday in Atlanta, pitching the proposed facility and its video lottery terminals as both “an entertaining way of distributing a scratch-off ticket” and “the only silver bullet that I’m aware of for fully funding both pre-K and the HOPE scholarship now and for generations to come.”

But lottery board chairman Jimmy Braswell said the group would want support from the state government before even considering the matter, calling it a “public policy decision.”

“It’s obviously very controversial, but we believe it’s a public policy decision that a seven-member, appointed board should not unilaterally decide on its own,” Braswell said. “I think we would need some degree of support from the governor and the leadership.”

The facility — which would also include a hotel, restaurants and shops — would be located near Interstate 85 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard and rely on the video lottery terminals (or VLTs) owned and operated by the Georgia Lottery. It is believed that its founding legislation would allow the lottery, if it wanted, to establish video machines without state approval.

Given Braswell’s comments Thursday, though, it seems unlikely to do so.

Gov. Deal has been outspoken in his anti-gambling stance in the past. Republican state Rep. Ron Stephens, on the other hand, has said dozens of lawmakers have supported his resolution urging the lottery board to approve VLTs.

Stephens believes it’s a local control issue that should be decided by Gwinnett County commissioners and not a state organization.

O’Leary invited the lottery board to the Gwinnett site for a “full-blown” presentation. Questioned after Tuesday’s meeting, though, Braswell said he didn’t anticipate doing so “anytime soon.”

“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,” he said, adding that the board’s next scheduled meeting isn’t until July.

O’Leary went public with his plans in February, and has been quick to clarify that the facility will not be a Las Vegas-style casino. Current plans call for 7,500 VLTs, a 5,000-seat performance venue, restaurants and retail situated around a 1,500-room hotel.

Recently, Georgia football star Herschel Walker has said he would open a restaurant at the site.

It’s been proposed that the lottery terminals would bring $350 million annually — a 40 percent increase in revenue — to the HOPE scholarship, which is mired in economic woes. Those projections have been verified through an independent study, Braswell said.

Still, O’Leary’s facility has its detractors.

Toby Tatum, a spokesman for the Norcross-based Georgia Family Council, also gave a short presentation to the lottery board Thursday. Citing increased crime and divorce rates in gambling communities like Atlantic City, N.J., he said his organization recognized the good VLTs would do for the HOPE scholarship but worried about other social ramifications of a “casino.”

“We also recognize one simple truth,” Tatum said, “that the ends do not justify the means.”

“Is this what we want for Norcross? Is this what we want from Georgia?” he added later. “This is a total departure from how the Georgia Lottery has operated to date.”

That part nobody’s denying, but the description of O’Leary’s projected facility is a point of contention. Most against it dub it a casino, but O’Leary has tried to steer clear of that perception. He calls it simply a “mixed-use project that will include a VLT gaming floor.”

Ed Sutor is the president and CEO of the Dover Downs Hotel and Casino in Delaware, which is similar to the facility proposed here. His group has a contract with O’Leary to operate the Gwinnett site if it comes to fruition.

“We’re no different than a convenience store that has a machine (that sells lottery tickets),” Sutor said at Thursday’s meeting. “The lottery selects that location, puts a machine in and they sell tickets and the owner gets a commission. Our store just happens to be a little bit bigger with a little bit more amenities.”

If O’Leary gets the go-ahead from the lottery board, the project will also have to make its way through Gwinnett’s Board of Commissioners. Chairwoman Charlotte Nash has said that the proposal is “certainly worth considering.”

O’Leary acknowledged they probably exist, but said he hasn’t heard directly from anyone in Gwinnett opposed to the facility.

He was optimistic about the commissioners’ role in the process.

“I certainly cannot speak on their behalf, but I think it’s fair to say that they’re at least intrigued, and I know that they have been spending a lot of time and effort in doing due diligence on our project,” O’Leary said. “And I’m just hopeful that the fact that they continue to do due diligence is a sign that they’re still interested.”

Because of pre-existing buildings on the site, construction would take about 18 months.

At A Glance

Johns Creek businessman Dan O’Leary has proposed a billion-dollar gaming facility in Norcross. He believes the multi-purpose center — which would include a hotel, restaurants and retail locations — would bring many positives to Gwinnett County:

• 2,500 permanent jobs once completed

• 1,000 temporary construction jobs

• $350 million annually to the Georgia Lottery’s HOPE scholarship and pre-k programs

• 5 million annual visitors

• Economic development around the planned site

• Land donated for a nearby transit station

Comments

Reason 1 year, 12 months ago

The fat lady is singing. Time for a new act. Maybe, something is "in the air"...

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glenn_s 1 year, 12 months ago

"O’Leary acknowledged they probably exist, but said he hasn’t heard directly from anyone in Gwinnett opposed to the facility." Uh, yea....I am in Gwinnett and I am opposed! I suspect that if O'Leary or the Board of Commissioners held a public hearing on the matter, they would hear directly from a lot of people opposed to the facility. But why should they start listening to the citizens now? Stadium.....airport.....casino..... "Chairwoman Charlotte Nash has said that the proposal is 'certainly worth considering.'" How out of touch is she? Or does she have some of the action? The County gives hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to Partnership Gwinnett, and this is the type of economic development we end up with? Casinos and trips to China? The names may change, but the citizens still get screwed.

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kevin 1 year, 12 months ago

Do what I and many others have done recently. We emailed the Board memebers with reasons not to approve this project here. Do you people want to fuss about more traffic at that area? Jimmy Carter and I-85 is a nightmare as it is. Watch that Nash isn't on the take with this one.

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teelee 1 year, 12 months ago

If this is going to be a place where people can gather and scratch off lottery tickets together then they may as well not waste their time and money. Pass a law in Georgia that allows gambling and horse racing so Georgians won't have to spend their time,money and $4 a gallon gas to drive to places in America where the people there are free to partake in those activities, Remember Gwinnett is still number one in the state of Georgia for home foreclosures. We need something like this to bring money back into Gwinnett. This along with the airport expansion should get the ball rolling.

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Hangdog 1 year, 12 months ago

They need to just go ahead and stick a hotel/casino with real gaming like blackjack, slots and poker on this site or the old GM plant site on 285. Doing that in Underground would turn that hell hole around as well.

Direct that money to the Hope/Pre-K, just like the lottery is now, and we wouldn't have to worry about funding the Hope. Horse racing is fun but has a limited audience but a real casino would be a huge success. Most of the tracks are having a tough time even staying open. Birmingham's didn't last any time at all...same for Aksarben, but a true casino would thrive.

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rabbama 1 year, 12 months ago

This will be in the wrong place!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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kevin 1 year, 12 months ago

There are so many "holes" in this report, I could fly a plane through it. First and foremost, the person who wants project, mostly for his wealth at our expense, is making estimates that will never be met. This is NOT a full casino, just lottery terminals. You will not get 5million+ visitors with just this inside. He has NOT guaranteed a minimum of $350 million to HOPE. You will NOT be able to guarantee that all the money planned for HOPE will go to HOPE. Just look at our system today. You will NOT fill up a huge hotel with people to play lottery machines. You will NOT solve the increased traffic problem that we will get form a project at I-85. It is already a nightmare. Nash is way over her head if she even thinks about approving this project. Most casinos are having hard times right now. Just look at all the ads in the papers and TV. O'Leary's expectations are unusually high to suck the politicians into approving this. If it gets approved anyway, just wait and see what I tell you here. Phase two will be the full casino. O'LEary is really trying to test the waters right now. His eyes are really on a future full of slots, cards, dice, and the whole bit. This is a hell of a way to entertain yourself and go broke at the same time. And you think the surrounding businesses are hurting now, just wait till all the seniors spend their SS checks, the lower middle class will spend their welfare checks, and the list will go on and on. A Las Vegas owner told me one time, the worse thing that could happen to a person is that the first time they go into a casino to gamble, they win. From there on, they get hooked forever or until the lose everything they have. Then Georgia, like other states with casinos, wil have to provide taxpayer help to these peolle so they can re-enter the mainstream free of debt. There are way too many people around here that can not afford to get hooked on this sort of stupid "entertainment." LEt the rich go to Alabama or the Gulf Coast. They need the money way ore than Georgia needs more people on welfare or other sorts of government assistance.

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elephanthead 1 year, 12 months ago

We surely do need to bring more money into the county - baseball,a big revenue generating airport and now legalized gambling! However, in the event that is not quite enough there are other options that should be considered. 1) Legalized dogfighting. That would certainly bring in the sort of clientele you want. 2) Legalized cockfighting. See above, only less so. 3) Legalized dog vs chicken fighting. Who could possibly stay away from that? 4) Legalized crack. Why make our hardworking crackheads drive out of the county to score (untaxed) when we could keep all the revenue here? Think of all the money for the kindergartens, the Hope, and cute puppies and kittens - how could this go wrong? 5) Legalized prostitution. Again, I see a potential revenue windfall here! 6) Lower the drinking age to 14. Every marketing organization knows that the 14-18 year old demographic has disposable income, in addition to being relatively stupid. Getting their money for a 12 pack or a pint of Mad Dog would be like shooting fish in a barrel. I see a reduction in the millage rate coming!

Seriously folks - listen to these sales pitches. Whenever someone says "its for the children", "its for cops and firemen", "its for the Hope scholarship", "its for disabled" or whatever else, you are being PLAYED. Appeals to your emotions are the first sign of a rotten intent. I dont gamble and I dont care if others do, but do it somewhere else. Let somewhere else deal the inevitable corruption, addiction, sleaze the attached itself to this stuff. If you think the BOC is a double dealing bunch of snakes now, wait until they have all this to tempt them. Don't be idiots.

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timmy2789 1 year, 12 months ago

lottery wants more money from people... 75 % of this gamblers are poor people trying to make fast money...but atleast if its a real casino.,you would see more rich people...well i guess ill be the first one to play this little slot machines ,

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