Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 20 No. 42
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

An idea worth rolling the dice on in Atlanta?

The Atlanta Hawks could place a big bet on redeveloping the area around Philips Arena known as The Gulch — by adding a casino.

“A casino is just an example of a potential accelerant for something like this,” said Hawks managing partner Bruce Levenson recently. “States have looked at ways to capture additional revenues for things like education, and they’ve looked to casino gambling among other ways of developing undeveloped areas and creating more opportunities for the state. So, yeah, I think that would be interesting.”

Bruce Levenson
Levenson spoke at the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Business of Sports Summit on March 28. He said entertainment operators view The Gulch as an attractive site, with its location in the heart of Atlanta’s robust convention business and being surrounded by tourism hot spots, such as the Georgia Aquarium.

Casino gambling is illegal in Georgia, but opening the doors for it in the state could represent a big payoff. “Overnight, we would become the premier tourism and convention destination in the country,” said Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts, a longtime proponent of bringing casino gambling to Georgia.

Just one Las Vegas-style casino in downtown Atlanta could generate up to $1.7 billion in economic impact and create 10,800 jobs, according to a 2007 study by Atlanta-based PKF Hospitality Research. Those numbers could hold true today as well, said PKF President Mark Woodworth, since Atlanta’s employment numbers are returning to peak levels.

Legalizing casinos in Georgia would require a constitutional amendment that’s subject to voter approval. Having an organization such as the Hawks campaigning for casinos could boost the effort.

“With the right backing, I wouldn’t mind trying it again,” said state Rep. Roger Bruce, D-Atlanta, who introduced a bill in 2009 to legalize some forms of gambling in Georgia. “Every city that has good entertainment seems to thrive.”

As lawmakers struggle with budget constraints and look for new revenue streams, casinos could be a logical option, Pitts said.

“The people are ready,” Pitts said, pointing to voters’ approval for Sunday alcohol sales and the lottery. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Amy Wenk writes for the Atlanta Business Chronicle, an affiliated publication.