Georgia casino bill possibly up for discussion again in 2017

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - Georgia's casino gambling bill may have died during last year's legislative session, but the conversation has not. In fact, lawmakers are already talking about the best places to build.

That includes the I-95 corridor near the Georgia and South Carolina. Hutchinson Island is no longer being considered as a possible location because officials say it would not pull in the type of traffic we see on I-95. Savannah Representative Ron Stephens is behind the bill, but he's not even sure what will come of it this year, as it's still very controversial.

"We're beginning the conversation to see where it goes," said Rep. Stephens.

Rep. Stephens told city leaders this week that the efforts behind this initiative to save Georgia's Hope Scholarship have not stopped since the bill died on Crossover Day during last year's legislative session. Lawmakers say the idea of building a vegas-style casino has now shifted away from Hutchinson Island, and towards the I-95 corridor.

"Most of these people who want to expand our lottery, and no one, not a single company was interested in Hutchinson Island. Their interest lies on I-95 on both ends of the state, either going to Florida or going to South Carolina," said Rep. Stephens.

He says developers are more interested in catching folks coming traveling north and south along I-95, which could potentially mean even more growth around the Pooler area.

"The survey was sent to many people, asking our thoughts on it," said Pam Southard, Director, Pooler Chamber of Commerce.

Just two weeks ago, Pam Southard with the Pooler Chamber of Commerce received a questionnaire from a state agency. She's in favor of it, but says many aren't.

"There was some pushback because so many people don't want to legalize gambling," she said.

Those also not in favor include Mayor Mike Lamb, but several folks we spoke to say it's a win-win.

"I think it would be great having a casino here," said Willie Douse.

"It's a larger area...more going on. It's a good thing," Jennifer Hoffman said.

In fact, should it ever come to fruition, lawmakers say it could generate 25,000 permanent jobs.

"These are not what you see when you go to these smaller areas. These are huge job creators," said Rep. Stephens.

The only gamble right now is whether this bill is brought back to life in 2017.

"I'm just not sure if the timing is right now," said Rep. Stephens.

As of Wednesday, no official bill had been pre-filed for the upcoming session, but of course, we will continue to follow this and keep you updated.

Copyright 2016 WTOC. All rights reserved.