One participant in the state Capitol fight over casinos – er, destination resorts – is a group calling itself the Georgia Arts and Culture Venues Coalition. The heavy hitters within include both the Woodruff Arts Center and the Fox Theatre.
A spokesman for the group says they’re not fer or agin gambling.
But on Monday, Allan Vella, CEO of the Fox, was on GPB Radio’s “Second Thought,” to explain his fear that, in the proponents’ plan to unite entertainment with gaming, the former would be used as a loss leader – with dire results for local theater and concert venues.
Listen here. Said Vella:
“The casino venues, what they’ll do is, they’ll pay two to three times more for an artist or entertainer than a normal performing arts center can. And obviously, they’ve got those gaming receipts to fund that.”
Entertainment venues in similar situations have seen revenue declines of “20 to 50 percent,” he said. “That could put some performing arts centers out of business.”
Apparently, this view has been fermenting for some time. We’ve come across a Dec. 16 letter to Vella from an MGM official – specifically, Lorenzo Creighton, the COO of MGM National Harbor, a destination resort in Maryland. Among the MGM executive's points:
As you know the Harrah’s Cherokee facility in North Carolina and the Wind Creek facility in Wetumpka, Alabama have their own entertainment venues with 3,000 and 2,500 seats. The Fox and other Atlanta entertainment venues are already competing with neighboring casinos and losing out. We would love to work with the Fox Theatre to reverse the loss of Georgia’s money to other states and bring new visitors to the area…
When entering a community, MGM builds to complement. As you are aware from my letter in September and your conversation last week, we built an approximately 3,000 seat-venue at our resort in National Harbor, Maryland because the market was missing that piece in their entertainment portfolio. Without a venue of that size, the market was not meeting a demonstrated demand and losing entertainment opportunities to other states.
We want to be clear that we do not know what size of venue would be right for a destination resort in Atlanta. However, as [another MGM official] confirmed last week, [I] want to point out that comparing the upcoming calendars for MGM National Harbor’s entertainment venue and the Fox Theatre between December and Spring 2017 shows zero overlap of performance…
Here’s where MGM pushed back hardest against the loss-leader argument:
You have previously cited concerns that a casino can routinely out-bid traditional venues for acts making the market too expensive for the established theaters and outlets…
[W]e must operate our entertainment venues at a profit. While they do drive traffic through our complementary amenities, they cannot be used as “loss-leaders” for our casino floors, as you have suggested, because 60 percent of our company’s revenue comes from our non-gaming amenities, which include our showrooms, theaters and arenas.
Because of this, we compete at fair-market value for our acts and price our tickets to meet market demand, just like the Fox Theatre.
At the outset of this session of the Legislature, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston said they would like to skip a fourth year of argument over “religious liberty” legislation to allow Congress to take up the topic.
Right decision, but wrong venue. The Nation, a magazine website that leans to the left, says it has a draft of yet another executive order that could soon be issued by President Donald Trump. Call it the “religious liberty” EO:
Language in the draft document specifically protects the tax-exempt status of any organization that “believes, speaks, or acts (or declines to act) in accordance with the belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are properly reserved for such a marriage, male and female and their equivalents refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy, physiology, or genetics at or before birth, and that human life begins at conception and merits protection at all stages of life.”
Georgia’s topic economic analysts were relatively optimistic when they spoke to a University of Georgia crowd on Wednesday. From the Athens Banner-Herald:
“The 2017 outlook for the state of Georgia is quite good,” said Benjamin Ayers, dean of UGA’s Terry College of Business.
Jobs will be plentiful, income will rise, and housing prices have recovered to pre-recession levels, if you don’t take inflation into account, said Ayers and UGA economic analyst Jeff Humphreys.
But the risk of recession has grown — about a 35 percent chance, up from 25 percent a year ago, Ayers said.
A national group backed by a California billionaire is back again this year with another attempt to get a constitutional amendment on victims' rights on the Georgia ballot. And this time it has about 20 legislative co-sponsors, including leaders from both parties.
The legislation, known as Marsy's Law, would require that victims and their families receive information about what services are available to them, notification of hearings and major developments in the criminal case and the right to be heard at plea or sentencing proceedings. It would also guarantee the right to restitution for victims and to give feedback to prosecutors before a plea deal.
“Marsy’s Law would give crime victims equal rights, nothing more, nothing less,” said state Sen. John Kennedy, a Macon Republican, adding that it gives victims legal "recourse if their rights were neglected."
About 35 states have some form of “victims’ rights” protections in their state constitutions, with Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota joining the ranks in 2016. Georgia lawmakers took up a similar measure last year, but it failed to gain traction.
This year, co-sponsors include Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer and state Sen. Jeff Mullis, who heads the chamber's Rules Committee, as well as Democratic state Sens. Nan Orrock and Elena Parent.
Georgia already has protections for victims in statutes, but this effort seeks to enshrine it in the state Constitution. That means that the legislation would require a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate, and majority approval by Georgia voters in a ballot referendum.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was at the state Capitol this week to speak to agency heads on the topic of leadership. The mayor and Gov. Nathan Deal have a oft-mentioned bipartisan friendship, but after the meeting, in expressing his thanks via Twitter, Deal's top aide hinted that he worried about the next mayor of Atlanta:
Several of the Democrats running to succeed the mayor in 2017 have strained relations with Deal, but none as much as state Sen. Vincent Fort. The Atlanta lawmaker is one of Deal's most outspoken critics, and Riley has taken to social media several times to criticize him.