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Developer plans $1B gambling complex in Gwinnett

A developer wants to build a $1 billion entertainment complex on the current OFS property that would include a towering hotel, a spacious theater and a game floor with 7,500 video lottery machines.

A developer wants to build a $1 billion entertainment complex on the current OFS property that would include a towering hotel, a spacious theater and a game floor with 7,500 video lottery machines.

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Dan O'Leary

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Proposed entertainment complex

Proposed entertainment complex
Reader poll

What kind of gaming would you like to see in Georgia?

  • Slot machines 16%
  • Horse racing 7%
  • Vegas-type table games 28%
  • The proposed lottery games are enough 35%
  • None. We don't need legalized gambling 14%

340 total votes.

NORCROSS — After years of languishing economic development at one of Gwinnett’s most underutilized sites, one developer is betting a gambling and entertainment center could fulfill Georgia’s hopes, in more ways than one.

The $1 billion proposal for the OFS site along Interstate 85 at Jimmy Carter Boulevard would bring a hotel, performing arts venue, dining and shopping and — in an added twist — a game floor with 7,500 video lottery machines.

The gambling proposal could bring $350 million a year to the HOPE Scholarship program, where lawmakers have had to cut benefits for years due to demand exceeding revenue.

“We want to bring a new customer to the Georgia Lottery Corporation, which is a white-collar customer,” said Dan O’Leary, a businessman from Johns Creek who first envisioned the destination gaming center eight years ago for an Underground Atlanta project. “It’s a mature business and without infusing new games, they can’t continue to grow at the rapid pace they did in the past.”

The idea, said Gwinnett Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, is intriguing for economic development, since it promises 2,500 permanent jobs on top of 1,000 construction jobs.

“It’s certainly worth considering and looking at,” she said. “There would be a substantial number of jobs involved. And anything that helps the HOPE scholarship adds a new twist to it.”

Chuck Warbington, who as director of the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District has been involved in talks of several failed projects for the OFS site over the years, said issues such as crime have to be considered.

But the proposal — which promises more of a “resort” than a casino vibe — has caught people’s attention.

“It could be transformative in terms of increasing property values in the area,” he said. “It could certainly transform the southern part of Gwinnett County.”

While O’Leary said buildings at the site could cut construction time to 18 months, the proposal is far from a done deal.

Not only would the normal zoning procedures apply, but O’Leary has fashioned a proposal that would tie the video lottery machines directly to the state lottery, with the corporation owning, maintaining and controlling the machines.

State law bans Las Vegas-style card games like poker, but the state lottery charter doesn’t specifically outlaw video lottery terminals, the Associated Press reports. The Georgia attorney general’s office said in a March 2010 letter that the terminals are “generally permitted” under state law.

The lottery board didn’t immediately comment to the AP. The board’s chairman, James Braswell, has said he believes his agency has the legal authority to add the machines. But he has said it couldn’t do so without a broader discussion with politicians and the public.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s office also did not comment, although records show he has met with O’Leary.

In an earlier interview Tuesday, the governor said that he generally doesn’t think Georgia is “compatible with a casino-type environment.”

“That’s a discussion that we have not had with the lottery board,” he said when asked about his views on video lottery terminals, according to AP. “I have some concerns about it, obviously. I do not support the casino-type concept. I don’t think that is good for our state. And I’ve also said I do not support other forms of gambling that some have suggested as a revenue measure.”

The video lottery machines, O’Leary said, look similar to slot machines but basically act as a video scratch-off lottery ticket. He said he does not intend to build a casino similar to Las Vegas.

Instead, he compared the proposal to Dover Downs in Delaware, which has agreed to manage the gambling operation.

“What we’re going for has a very, very upscale feel,” he said. “It’s not going to be the glitzy, Las Vegas feel ... It’s classy conservative.”

The first phase of the project would include a 24-story, 500-room hotel, a parking garage with 5,400 spaces and gaming room, at a cost of $400 million.

“We obviously would like to get started right away,” O’Leary said, adding that he has been working to build support on both the state and local level before anything moves forward. “We’ve been doing our best to educate people about the project. To this point, we’ve been encouraged.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Comments

jjbod1 2 years, 5 months ago

I myseld do not gamble at all including the lottery. But it does sound like a really cool plan. They did build a couple actual casinos up in my original hometown of Pittsburgh, and from what i have heard have been a major success, and have really helped pump much needed revenue into the local economy. I hope the bible thumpers who always feel the need to try to dictate others people lives stay out of this concept. The reality of it is, people who have problems with gambling are always going to find a way to do it. So might as well let the rest of us benefit from the tax it can bring to our community vs $$$ going into the pockets of illegal bookies.

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Karl 2 years, 5 months ago

Reasoned response, jjbod1. Thanks.

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jjbod1 2 years, 5 months ago

Its just one of those things that personally, I am not for or against. Meaning if it opens, I will go check it out one time, maybe play a game or 2 for fun, and may never go back again. But if it makes other people happy so be it, let them have there form of entertainment. I also personally have never really been into Strip clubs, find them a waist of my own money. But over the years i have known many girls who have worked in them, and friends who have and still go to them. Neither party is hurting anyone. Its a money generating business, and as long as all laws are followed, let those people be. As far as it bringing in more trash,"some one below made that comment" Im sorry, but your a idiot, even though I dont frequent these places, I have been to them over the years. They do not bring in the bums and crime that many think they do. The people who go to these places have to have money in there pockets to spend to be there. Plus it would most likly bring more tourists and conventions into the metro area. I am just so sick of GA trying to be such a nanny state.

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CD 2 years, 5 months ago

My concern is the "traffic" this will bring to Norcross, especially if there is a MARTA connection. I don't drive through or around Norcross and have no intention of doing so, but I can only imagine how this will "improve" the area. On the other hand, Gwinnett is nothing but a toilet and so given that fact, why not. What is a little more sewage?

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RiggaTony 2 years, 4 months ago

I agree, CD. Like you, I also enjoy concerning myself with details that have no direct effect on my life. It's important that everyone knows how opinionated people like you and I feel about all matters.

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RiggaTony 2 years, 4 months ago

Thanks for your kind words, CD. There aren't many people like you and I left - people who remember when Gwinnett was composed of nothing but country roads and was devoid of that certain 'undesirable' element of the population. If only we could turn back time!

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jack 2 years, 5 months ago

And think, if we had a convenient airport for the gamblers to use! There'd literally be so many new jobs bringing in so much money that none of us would have to work again!

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R 2 years, 5 months ago

Jack - Was this a HIGH Jack?
Good use of sarcasm, Jon Stewart would've been proud.

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GlennGA 2 years, 5 months ago

Strong Video lottery machines are just another tax on the poor. This is the lowest class of legal gambling the County could pursue. And the types of individuals it will attract will just help take Gwinnett down the wrong path, jobs or no jobs. The County politicians are only looking at the easy money and jobs. How quick they sell themselves. Might be time to put Gwinnett County in my rear-view mirror! And jjbod1, your comments are well intended but your unfamiliarity with gambling, both legal and illegal, should encourage you to ask many more hard questions.. .

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GlennGA 2 years, 5 months ago

Video lottery is the lowest type of "legal" gambling Gwinnett County could allow. Video lottery is a tax on the poor. They will flock to the hotel to lose their much needed money and never stay there . . . Are the expected jobs and revenue worth the pain?

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Karl 2 years, 4 months ago

uhh, they're all big boys and girls and they don't need you to be their nanny. If YOU don't want to gamble, how 'bout this---DON'T GO TO THE PLACE.

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RiggaTony 2 years, 4 months ago

Karl, it's not that simple. Allowing others to openly and willing sin around us (with a government sanction no less!) invites tragedy for all of us. First, there's the increased crime rate others have mentioned. Have you also considered the effect on families who could be left destitute because of such a facility? Won't someone think of the children? We also have to remember that God will only allow disobedience for so long. I'm sure I don't have to remind you of the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah...

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Mack711 2 years, 4 months ago

Agree with you on this issue. We can not be responsilbe for the actions of the ones who abuse this form of entertainment. Gambling is going on in Gwinnett county unregulated and un taxed. At least this will bring them out. Many casinos support gamblers addictions and know who they are and will not permit them to be in the casinos. They also have programs to assist addicted gamblers.

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BuzzG 2 years, 5 months ago

The $1 billion proposal is hype. I say "show me the money." What they really are after are public funds (money taken forcibly from our pockets by the government). You can count on it.

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notblind 2 years, 4 months ago

Probably right. I just read about all the tax breaks the well hyped new Caterpillar plant is getting over the next 20 years. There are concerns that the costs outweigh the potential benefits.

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Mack711 2 years, 4 months ago

All for legalized gaming for the state of Georgia. We have lost a lot of tax dollars to places like Cherokee, Alabama and Mississippi, even Las Vegas.Yes it needs to be well thought out and questions, such as security and how much additional police will be required to protect the citizens. Since this is mostly located in a commercial area this may be a good location. We here in Gwinnett need to find out how much it will cost versus how much we will take in. You know that the state and other agencies will want their 'fare' share of the profits. One other thing if you do not like gambling then do not go in. No one is forcing you to go in.

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LookingDeeply 2 years, 4 months ago

Hopefully, the community and our county commissioners will do a better job with this project than with Coolray Stadium. The taxpayers are still on the financial hook for that white elephant project. The developers and team walked away with the financial benefits and we got the bill. The commissioner's were not even savvy enough to maintain the naming rights, which could have garnered a large fee. That would have helped to offset our $19 million dollar dip into the county's reserve fund that the taxpayers could not afford.

This time around due-diligence should include input and advice from someone other than the developers designing the project and making the money.

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Bigmack 2 years, 4 months ago

I am not exactly sure where this location is in Norcross. However, gambling is gambling no matter if it is the machines they are speaking of or other electronic devices. One must know and I do for a fact that when these machines are built they are required by the "Gambling Commissions", that there is a win loss ratio built in. The machines can be mechanically tweaked by each establishment (Casino) within the parameters authorized by the commission. If the state of Georgia is willing to go as far as this establishment there is no reason that a full blown Casino should not be considered. If the revenue is to be used for education in the state so much the better. The Casinos I have visited are classy, well maintained , and self policed. Self police meaning that the owner of the Casino hires armed guards, and no need for the people of Gwenette paying for additional police officers. There are businesses in the state that already hire armed guards so this would be nothing new. First and foremost it must be agreed upon No government funding, no tax break for coming here. There are many many Georgians that travel out of state on week ends to gamble. Why not keep them here?

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Mack711 2 years, 4 months ago

Do not forget that there is a Gwinnet County police office on the corner. Very handy.

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Gundoctor1 2 years, 4 months ago

Talk about a subject that will bring many responses. You've hit on one here. Wonder would this pay off that baseball stadium we just had to have? Guess we will all see. By the way, those "bible thumpers" also vote J.J. but you do make some excellent observations.

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jjbod1 2 years, 4 months ago

Lol, i myself am a very strong man of faith "christian" I just try to fully follow the bible where it says, "we are not to judge anyone for what they do, only the Lord himself has that right" therefor as long as we as individuals do what we think is right in the presence of God, that is all that matters. If gambling is wrong, then its up to God to punish those who do so, but in the end, we may find out, it was never a big deal to him.

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TOWG 2 years, 4 months ago

This is a great idea and makes sense on so many levels that there is absolutely no way it will ever come about.

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LilburnLady 2 years, 4 months ago

It is a proven fact (as the linked study shows) that the presence of a casino increase crime in the vicinity and in neighboring communities over time. Initially, with increased police presence (provided by the tax revenues), crime will go down in the first year or two. But the attached study of 3,165 counties in the U.S. shows that the rate of rapes, robberies, burglaries and larceny goes up dramatically over a five-year period after a casino opens in a community. http://www.maine.com/editions/2006-05-15/images/20060531000107C.pdf

It is not only "people with money" who frequent casinos, because as anyone knows, the house usually wins and those that had enough money to play, leave without it most of the time. Those people who cannot walk away and must return to play again will beg, borrow or steal to get enough money to go back and play again. You can expect an increase in the number of problem gamblers in the community, 65% of which, will steal to support their addiction. Visitors coming into an area to visit a casino are also more likely to commit criminal acts than say a visitor coming in to visit a national park or other attraction. You can also expect an increase in the number of pawn shops in the area around a casino. The list goes on and on. Casinos may create revenue, but they negatively impact the community around them.

That site could be used for so many things, such as a hotel/resort and shopping mall centered around a water park/amusement park similar to the one in Nashville, TN. Or it could be a hotel/resort centered around a global/ethnic park such as Epcot Village in Orlando, FL. With such a large and diverse population of minorities in Gwinnett, why not celebrate that diversity and lift it up, rather than bring the community down with a casino?

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HonestIngine 2 years, 4 months ago

Put it at the old GM plant in Doraville... Makes sense, there is enough land for several hotels and casino's

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dentaldawg83 2 years, 4 months ago

and the freedom hating thumpers come out of the woodwork yet again!

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CD 2 years, 4 months ago

O'Leary should run for a BOC seat. The gluttonous heathens already have a casino where they play fast and loose with taxpayer funds and never lose.

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