$200 million resort casino in south Columbus moves a step closer to a vote

Businessman Robert Wright addresses Columbus Council Tuesday night.
Businessman Robert Wright addresses Columbus Council Tuesday night. mowen@ledger-enquirer.com

It took about 90 minutes of discussion, but Columbus Council eventually approved including a casino gambling referendum on its legislative wish list.

By a 7-2 vote with Councilors Glenn Davis and Mike Baker opposed and Councilor Mimi Woodson absent, council approved asking the local legislative delegation to “introduce and/or support legislation to authorize a referendum to allow Georgia citizens to vote as to whether they want to allow casino gaming in Georgia for the purpose of Hope Scholarship funding.”

Council’s discussion followed five leaders in the black community who supported including the suggestion on the legislative agenda.

Local entrepreneur Robert Wright Jr. said Monday that he would like to see a $200-million casino go up in south Columbus. He and several other leaders came to Council on Tuesday to ask councilors to include the request on its legislative agenda.

Every year, council sends a wish list to the local legislative delegation, listing legislation they would like the state representatives and senators to bring before the Georgia General Assembly in the next session.

Addressing councilors during the Public Agenda portion of the meeting, Wright was joined by attorneys Teddy Reese, Stacey Jackson and Katonga Wright, who is Wright’s niece, and Rev. Ralph Huling, pastor of St. James Missionary Baptist Church and president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.

All five speakers stressed that Tuesday’s vote wasn’t to approve or disapprove casino gambling itself. It is only to ask the delegates to pave the way for the public to have a right to vote on it.

Huling invoked Abraham Lincoln’s philosophy that government works best when there is a democracy.

“I believe the people should have a choice in the matter. That’s democracy,” Huling said. “The citizens of Muscogee County deserve to have the right to vote. That’s the only horse I have in this race.”

Reese said the vote was only to make sure people have a choice.

“I’m not here to endorse gambling in Columbus,” Reese said. “I’m here to get the elected officials to let the people vote.”

Jackson said it is important to remember that the “powers of government are based on the consent of the public.”

“With the right to vote comes political equality,” Jackson said. “One man, one vote.”

Robert Wright cited his long history in Columbus, working as an optometrist, businessman and at one time a member of Council.

“I’ve always tried to do what I can to help this city,” Wright said. “We shouldn’t be left out of this the way we were left out of the Interstate system.”

Katonga Wright said that while her uncle spoke about the past, she wanted to talk about the future of Columbus.

“It’s so important that we consider ventures like this,” Wright said. “Other cities, like Augusta, are already talking about this. They’re at the table, and we need to be at that table, too.”

Davis, one of two lone opposing votes, said he supports people’s right to vote on issues, but he said the councilors have not had a chance to adequately educate themselves on the issue.

“I think it’s premature to vote on this now,” Davis said.