A real estate company said “three name-brand casino operators” have expressed interest
s the Georgia Legislature considers a bill that could legalize casino gambling in the state, real estate professionals are marketing potential sites in Savannah, Midway and Kingsland for casino resorts.
Atlanta developer Richard Lackey of City Commercial Real Estate said he has the exclusive listings of a combined 5,000 acres for properties in or near those municipalities, Savannah Morning News reports. He recently released renderings of three proposed casino resorts around the state. Lackey also said “three name-brand casino operators” have expressed interest in locating a resort along the Georgia coast.
Savannah stands as the most marketable because “the intersection of I-95 and I-16 clocks traffic counts second only to Atlanta intersections,” according to Lackey, whose company helped develop The Battery, a mixed-use complex in Cobb County that includes the Atlanta Braves’ Truist Park. Specific Savannah-area sites remain closely guarded secrets.
The lawmaker sponsoring the casino gambling legislation, Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) referenced the Interstate 95 corridor in a discussion in December. He specifically mentioned Port Wentworth. Proposed sites are unlikely to be within the Savannah city limits, as several members of Savannah City Council have voiced opposition to casinos.
Farther south along I-95, the Midway casino site is public knowledge. The site plan includes a casino, hotels, movie theater, a live music area, townhomes, a senior living facility, a convention hall, a lake (existing), active adult cottages, workforce housing, community park, community center and recreation facilities.
As for Kingsland, located just three miles north of the Georgia-Florida line, the city’s proximity to Jacksonville, Fla. makes it attractive to casino operators, Lackey said. The proposed site is a 400-acre tract at I-95’s exit 3. “The Kingsland site offers access to Jacksonville and its amenities including an international airport,” he said.
Lackey said casino owners/operators have several criteria for a good site location for a casino resort. “It has to be a minimum of 100 upland acres, close to an exit ramp, and visible from Interstate 95,” he said. “They also want it near a state line.” The sites should be easily reachable by car for those who live in major population centers, he added. Lackey notes the population within a two-hour drive for the three Coastal Georgia sites is up to 5 million and within a five-hour drive the population is between 30 and 35 million.
Developers are exploring at least three sites beyond Coastal Georgia for potential casinos. One is at the Atlanta Motor Speedway complex in Henry County, approximately 30 minutes south of Atlanta. The others are along the Savannah River in Hartwell, off Interstate 85, and the Chattahoochee River near Columbus. Lackey is connected to both of those proposed projects. Supporters of legalized gambling have gotten off to a head start in selling Lavonia, Columbus and Midway on casinos. City councils in all three communities have endorsed putting resort casinos in their midst. In Lavonia, Lackey’s company has a 500-acre site along Lake Hartwell under a lease agreement.
Legalization is a long and difficult process and is just now starting the Georgia General Assembly. Stephens has introduced a bill calling for a constitutional amendment, which requires more than just a majority vote for initial approval.
Two-thirds of legislators — 126 representatives in the Georgia House and 37 members of the Georgia Senate — must vote in favor for a constitutional amendment to be written. The measure must also be blessed by the governor and then is placed on the ballot as a statewide voter referendum.
Should the constitutional amendment receive approval this legislative session, it would go on the ballot for the 2022 general election. Should the amendment win statewide approval in November 2022, voters in municipalities where the casino resorts would be located would have to approve it via referendum as well, meaning full approval for a casino on a specific site won’t happen until 2023 at the earliest.