Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has ambitious plans for Georgia. And they could rival or top the investment that gambling giant MGM envisions for Atlanta.
With Georgia lawmakers edging toward a debate over whether to legalize casino gambling, Adelson is angling to make sure his company, Las Vegas Sands, has a piece of the action.
He happens to have a key Georgia ally in the hunt. Mike Leven was the chief operating officer at Adelson's firm before he returned to Atlanta in October 2014 for a second stint as the leader of the Georgia Aquarium.
Leven said Adelson was likely eyeing an "architectural wonder" that will draw tourists and residents alike. MGM executives said the firm expects to spend at least $1 billion on its resort; Leven said Adelson could double it.
"I think MGM’s commentary about a billion-dollar building is not enough. I think you need a $2 billion building. And I think that would be self sufficient and provide significant returns for the casino company and the city of Atlanta. Atlanta needs something significant or it's not worth it. Atlanta needs a Marina Bay Sands, a Bellagio. Something that would be an Opryland at a four- or five-star level. And it would be the only place in the Southeast like that."
Leven also said he has a message he wants to deliver to Deal, who challenged the casino firms to up their ante if they wanted to get a better reception from his office. At issue is the 12 percent tax rate currently proposed. Deal wants it boosted to the 24 percent to 35 percent take the Georgia Lottery reaps from its various games.
It's a high-stakes game of negotiating, Leven said, and 12 percent is just the starting point. He added:
"I think Gov. Deal – and I would tell him this when I see him in a couple of weeks – he should find out who buys lottery tickets and where the money comes from. It’s lower-middle class and the poor. And it goes to scholarships for people who don’t live in those communities.
"An integrated resort like Sheldon Adelson builds at anywhere between an 18 to 20 percent tax rate on gaming would produce significant money for the state and the city of Atlanta without taxing the poor or the lower-middle class ... I will tell you an integrated resort built on this kind of caliber would create 6,000 jobs. And they will pay taxes to the state and add enormous value."