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.
Proposed entertainment complex
Proposed entertainment complex
Vegas-type table games
The proposed lottery games are enough
None. We don't need legalized gambling
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.