New poll shows support for gambling in Ga.

by: Jim Strickland Updated:

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ATLANTA - A poll of early metro voters shows the Republican ballot question regarding casino gambling to fund education will pass in metro Atlanta.

Rosetta Stone Communications pollster John Garst said a sample of those who have already voted in 10 metro counties show approval for the question 49 percent to 46 percent.

The question is non-binding, and is the first statewide vote on gambling since the lottery.

"It looks like it will come out of the 10 county metro area with roughly a 4,000-vote lead," predicted Garst.

A proposal for a massive gaming complex in Gwinnett County would include 7,500 slot machines controlled by the Georgia Lottery to raise $350 million annual in funds to go the HOPE scholarship.

"It's a moral question for some people. For me it's not so much, it's all about economics," said Bill Milks, who plans to vote in favor.

"I'm all for the HOPE scholarship and saving that. On the other hand, I think, 'Gosh, they're going to attract unsavory people,'" undecided voter Tish Domin said.

Garst said objections run strong outside Atlanta -- enough nay votes, he believes, to quickly overcome a 4,000-vote lead in early metro voting.

"After looking at all the numbers, this ballot question will probably lose in the state of Georgia by 10 points or greater," Garst said.

"If we just got just 40 percent approval on the question that's on the ballot, we would consider that a huge win," said Gwinnett facility developer Dan O'Leary.

O'Leary said the ballot question is too vague and does not truly measure the merits of his project.

It doesn't mention the lottery controlling the gambling, and doesn't specifically say the HOPE is the beneficiary.

O'Leary is hoping to convert the naysayers with specifics.

"To really clarify as it relates to our project, we know the approval rating would go much higher," he said.

Gaming opponents figure a red-state rejection by GOP voters will end any plans for any type of slot machine gaming.

"What that will do is send a message to the legislature that this doesn't work for Georgia," said Public Service Commission chairman Tim Echols, who's helping lead opposition to the question.

"If you want to save HOPE, here we are. If you don't want to save HOPE, our project is probably not going to happen," countered O'Leary.

Echols told Channel 2's Jim Strickland the HOPE's financial problems are being used as an excuse to introduce casino gaming to Georgia.

O'Leary claims his project is the only "silver bullet" to revive the scholarship program, which has suffered from increased tuition and enrollments.

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