Local college students throw support behind casino proposal

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 11, 2012 

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Three local college students have launched a campaign in support of a proposed casino and resort in Hardeeville.

They aren't looking to gamble, they say. They want the jobs the casino could produce.

Ryan Baggot, a senior hospitality management student at University of South Carolina Beaufort; Juan Jordan, an engineering student at Georgia Tech's Savannah campus; and Thomas Kersey, a pre-law student at Armstrong Atlantic State, say the casino would be a economic boost to the area.

Baggot said he first heard about the proposal in one of his courses. He started reading more about it, and from there became convinced the casino should be built.

"This is something this area needs, and a lot of people feel the same way," Baggot said.

Developers say the casino, which would be within the Hilton Head Lakes development on U.S. 278 and include a 400-room luxury hotel, would create 4,700 jobs statewide, including 2,250 on-site. They estimate it would bring in $92 million in wages, salaries and benefits to Jasper County.

Kersey, a Jasper County native, said that's good news.

"I'm not all about casinos, but anything that could bring any amount of money to Jasper County I can support," he said.

Developers also say it would attract about 4.3 million visitors annually. Baggot said it could mean the end of an off-season for tourism -- people coming to the casino will shop, eat and stay awhile, he said.

"Besides golf and the beach, this is another way to draw people in," he said.

The students are collecting signatures on a petition they plan to deliver to Gov. Nikki Haley encouraging her approval. The casino operation would be aligned with the Cherokee tribe, but federal law governing off-reservation gaming requires approval from a state's governor.

So far, about 200 people have signed online and paper versions of the petition, the students say.

Haley has indicated reluctance to approve the casino. That doesn't make sense to Jordan. Haley has brought in big plants elsewhere in South Carolina, such as Boeing in North Charleston and BMW near Spartanburg. It's time for her to boost the Lowcountry, Jordan said.

"We want her to have that tenacity (here), and not discriminate against a business in the open market that won't be taking any of our tax dollars and will completely comply with regulations," Jordan said.

The students' petition drive -- named "Let Us Work" -- isn't affiliated with the casino's developers. In fact, the students say they hadn't met them at all until a community meeting in Hardeeville early last week.

Bob McAlister, the developers' public relations consultant, said he thinks the students' support is representative of the wider community.

"The passion about this issue is palpable," McAlister said. "People are excited about it; they are enthusiastic."

The students said they hope to get about 1,000 signatures in the next week so they can deliver the petition to Haley.

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

Related content:

"Let Us Work" website

"Let Us Work" petition in support of the casino and resort proposal

Jasper County hoping to hit jackpot with tribal casino, hotel; Jan. 13, 2012

Developers, politicians backing proposed Hardeeville casino complex outline plans; Feb. 8, 2012

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