AJC survey: Most oppose video lottery

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Most metro Atlanta residents oppose allowing video lottery terminals to raise
more money for the HOPE scholarship and other lottery-funded programs,
according to a poll conducted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

A rendering of developer Dan O'Leary's proposed $1 billion gambling resort in Gwinnett.


A rendering of developer Dan O’Leary’s proposed $1 billion gambling resort in Gwinnett.

Fifty-three percent of the 625 local voters surveyed say they are against
expanding gambling to allow “video-style slot machines.” Forty percent said
they support adding the devices, while the rest were undecided.

The poll was conducted days before Republican voters across the state will be
asked whether Georgia should have “casino gambling with funds going to
education.” The Tuesday ballot question doesn’t carry the weight of the law,
but the first vote on gambling since the lottery was approved in 1992 comes
at a key moment.

Developer Dan O’Leary wants to build a $1 billion gambling resort in Gwinnett
that could pump $350 million each year into the cash-strapped HOPE
scholarship program. And the lottery board, facing pressure to boost sales,
voted this month to make Georgia one of the first states to expand lottery
sales to the Internet.

While few supporters think Georgia residents are ready for full-fledged
casinos, they are betting that the state will embrace video lottery
terminals, which resemble slot machines and are already permitted by law.
And opponents who fear an increase in gambling could lead to a wave of crime
and sinking property values see the vote as a chance to end the debate once
and for all.

A closer look at the survey reveals fault lines that could complicate efforts
to expand gambling.

Some 45 percent of men support the expansion but only 36 percent of women. And
while a majority of Republican and Democratic voters oppose the ideas, the
level of support drops sharply based on party preference. About 45 percent
of Democrats said they supported the expansion, while only 35 percent of
Republicans did. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4
percentage points.

Count John Mahoney, a 50-year-old teacher in Kennesaw, among the opposition.
He said he worried that video gambling terminals could pop up in seedy
locations already plagued by crime and poverty.

“I see video terminals as a halfway measure, and that’s a bad idea,” said
Mahoney, a Democrat. “If you’re going to do it, do it all the way and
confine it to a casino or a horse track.”

Others who participated in the survey see expanded gambling as an opportunity
to boost economic development.

“It creates jobs that we’re in desperate need of. And it creates revenue,”
said Barbara Rocco, a 61-year-old medical transcriptionist from
Lawrenceville who is a Republican. “People travel to Mobile and elsewhere to
gamble. Maybe we ought to keep them home, and reap the benefits.”

Tim Echols, a Republican member of the Public Service Commission who is
leading an anti-gambling initiative, said he was “pleasantly surprised” by
the results.

“Georgians understand gambling more than people give them credit for,” said
Echols. “People understand that as gambling increases, so does vice and
divorce and bankruptcies and drug problems.”

O’Leary, the developer, said he’s not reading too much into the poll or next
week’s election returns. He said his proposal doesn’t require legislative
approval or a constitutional amendment because video lottery terminals are
already permitted under state law.

“We know that there is a tremendous amount of support for our specific
project,” he said. “We’ve been working on this for eight years, and if we
hadn’t seen that support I wouldn’t be wasting my time or money.”

While the outcome of Tuesday’s vote will be closely watched, the result seems
unlikely to sway Gov. Nathan Deal, who appoints the lottery board. In a
recent interview, he didn’t sound keen on the prospect of video lottery

“I’m not ready to go there at this point,” he said.

Article source: http://www.ajc.com/news/ajc-survey-most-oppose-1486333.html

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