Study picks Jekyll Island as casino site

The Brunswick News

By Anna Ferguson Hall
October 28, 2011

Jekyll Island is one of three areas in Georgia - along with Atlanta and Savannah - that a study for the Georgia Lottery Corp. has targeted as potential locations for gambling casinos.

Managers at the state park island that has long cultivated a family-friendly atmosphere were quick to say Thursday after the study was released that they are not interested.

The study by Spectrum Gaming Group, a gaming consultant, found that gambling casinos with video machines in the three areas could generate nearly $1 billion annually.

State law currently prohibits casino gambling, but if a law were passed allowing it, all three sites could offer gambling by 2014.

When results of the study were presented to Bob Krueger, chair of the Jekyll Island Authority that operates the island, he was not convinced that gambling was an option for bringing extra revenue to Jekyll Island.

"Jekyll Island is a place for Georgia families and our neighbors to come and enjoy the natural beauty of the coastal environment and marvel at the history here," Krueger said. "The Jekyll Island Authority board strongly opposes the idea of casino-style gambling on Jekyll Island and any other activity which may detract from the family-oriented atmosphere."

It's a mystery to the Jekyll Island Authority why the island was mentioned in the study that cost the lottery corporation $91,000, said Eric Garvey, chief communications officer for the authority.

He said the authority learned of the study and its findings only recently. "We were not aware the study was happening," Garvey said. "We did not participate in it and we were surprised when we learned we were included. We never were asked to be included and we have no idea why we were."

Although the addition of a casino might create jobs for the authority and would likely produce profits for the state, it is not entertainment that fits the image of the island, Garvey said.

The Jekyll Island Authority wants a family-oriented atmosphere that brings in conventions looking for a low-stress location where children, teenagers and adults can find appropriate venues for rest and relaxation, Garvey said. A casino doesn't fit that mold, he said.

"Jekyll strives to be a family destination, where people can escape from the stress of everyday life," he said. "Conventions choose us for that reason. If a convention is looking for a location that offers gambling, I'm sure they can find that elsewhere."

Mac DeVaughn, executive director of the Jekyll Island Foundation, the fundraising unit for the authority, echoed Garvey's sentiments, saying that there are plenty of locations that offer gambling. Jekyll Island does not need to be one of them, he said.

"I just don't see casinos having a fit here on Jekyll," DeVaughn said. "The bottom line is, it's hard to mess with paradise. Jekyll just doesn't have a need for casinos."

When the Jekyll Island Authority board started reviewing concepts for redevelopment several years ago, the idea of building casinos was casually mentioned by developers, only to be quickly shot down by the board.

A casino is not something island managers likely will ever consider, Garvey said. "Whatever the study found, good, bad or indifferent, casinos are not an option for Jekyll," he said.

Casino gambling would face a cool reception in the Republican-led Legislature, as well. Gov. Nathan Deal's spokesman, Brian Robinson, said the Republican will not support casinos.

"He has stated repeatedly that there will not be an expansion of gambling under his watch," Robinson said.

Georgia lottery board chairman Jimmy Braswell said the board commissioned the study in an attempt to ensure that lawmakers looking at the issue of video gaming have accurate information.

"The study shows a potential for a large amount of money, however, there are other social and economic issues to consider," Braswell said in a statement. "For this reason, we have always viewed this concept as a public policy matter. The importance of the report is to bring some clarity to the issue through an independent study."

- Associated Press reporter Dorie Turner contributed from Atlanta

Jekyll Island is adamant in 'no dice' on gambling

The Brunswick News

By Anna Ferguson Hall
October 29, 2011

Gloria Zocchi can't imagine what would happen to her beloved Jekyll Island home if a gambling casino were added to the landscape.

For all the years she has resided on the state-owned island, Zocchi has known the pristine location to be only one of natural, wholesome beauty. Gambling just don't fit with her long-held ideals of the island.

"I don't even want to think about it," Zocchi said.

Zocchi's sentiments echo those of many island residents and state officials who say gambling is not an option for increasing revenue and jobs for the state.

The opinions follow a study released Thursday by the Georgia Lottery Corp. that concluded that casinos in three locations - Atlanta, Savannah and Jekyll Island - could generate nearly $1 billion annually for the state as soon as 2014.

Gov. Nathan Deal immediately said he did not support gambling casinos. Members of Glynn County's state delegation and others in the community have the same opinion.

But never say never. Residents recall the years when state officials opposed a state lottery and, until this year, retail Sunday alcohol sales. A lottery was adopted during the term of Gov. Zell Miller and the Legislature this year gave counties the option of voting on Sunday sales.

Merely raising the issue of casino gambling, though, does not sit well with residents who are protective of the island.

Among them is Mindy Egan, an island resident and co-founder of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, organized several years ago to challenge a developer's plans for the island. A casino on Jekyll Island would cause many residents to relocate and keep some families from visiting, Egan said.

"I don't know anyone who has said this is a good idea," she said. "The Jekyll Island Authority (which operates the island) is finally marketing the island for what it is - a calm, stress-free and natural place for family vacations."

While the study, which the lottery corporation paid a gaming consultant $91,000 to do, might have valid points that a casino on Jekyll Island would generate jobs and revenue, it is not an option state Rep. Roger Lane, R-Darien. could ever support.

Bringing gambling to the island or any other part of Glynn County would greatly affect values held by regional leaders and citizens, Lane said.

It also would require a major effort by state legislators to amend the state constitution and to persuade voters to enact gambling venues in Georgia, Lane said.

"I don't want it," he said of casinos in Glynn County. "A casino of any kind would change the face of our great community. It's just not something I see happening."

Neither do Bob Krueger, chair of the Jekyll Island Authority board, or Jones Hooks, executive director of the authority. Both are opposed to gambling on the island.

Hooks says he is unsure why the state park was even included in the study. The authority was not notified that the island was a part of the research and it was never asked to be a part of the findings, he said.

Gambling goes against the vision the authority has set for the island, Hooks said.

"Casino gambling would be totally inconsistent with the natural attraction and family orientation of Jekyll Island," Hooks said. "The authority chairman and board have previously made their opposition strongly known."

State Sen. William Legion, R-Waverly, says he supports the authority's stance. He says a casino would be out of step with the nature of the island.

Not everyone is vehemently against the idea. Glynn County Commission Chair Tom Sublett, whose district includes Jekyll Island, is not a fan of setting up a casino, but he says he understands the benefits that a casino might have for the state park.

"This is a quiet, peaceful island, but I think we need to keep an open mind," Sublett said. "If there were support for a casino, it would be something we need to enter into with a careful, prudent and respectful frame of reference. As it is now, though, is does not appear that any support is being offered for the idea."