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VOL. 129 | NO. 119 | Thursday, June 19, 2014

What to Aid Ailing Casino Market


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TUNICA RESORTS, Miss. (AP) – As Tunica grapples with the Harrah's closure, the state of Mississippi hasn't acted to support the industry. But there are proposals under discussion that might bolster the remaining casinos and the tax revenue they produce. Here's a brief look at some:

Increase tourism promotion. Mississippi plans to spend $4.88 million on tourism advertising and promotion in the budget year beginning July 1. That's far below tourism spending by neighboring states. The Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau could also spend more, but it's mostly funded by casinos, and anticipates having less money after Harrah's closes. Scott Barber, the Caesars Entertainment executive who oversees Harrah's, the Horseshoe Casino Hotel and the Tunica Roadhouse Casino and Hotel, said the company would probably prefer to spend money itself instead of taxing itself to support the CVB. "We've always believed as a company we control our destiny better than a second or a third party."

Give Tunica County a local sales tax to lure new development. Because Tunica County casinos are in unincorporated areas, the local government doesn't receive a share of the 7 percent sales tax collected by the state. The county has for years asked the Legislature to divert a share of sales taxes to help developers to build new attractions such as a water park, entertainment museum or family entertainment center. Webster Franklin, head of the Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau, believes more attractions would diversify tourism, helping the local economy and casinos. Lawmakers, though, have been loath to share sales taxes with any entity but cities.

Widen tourism tax incentives to cover more casino projects. Mississippi allows developers of hotels, convention centers, golf courses and some retailers to help pay for their attractions by diverting sales tax revenue collected at the site. Developers can eventually get back up to 30 percent of what they spend if they meet certain investment thresholds. But current incentives specifically exclude expansion of existing projects and exclude casinos.

Allow Tunica casinos to move off the Mississippi River. Gulf Coast casinos were allowed to rebuild on land after 2005's Hurricane Katrina. But casinos along the river must float on barges. Allowing a move to land could be an incentive to keep two of three Harrah's hotels and a golf course operating on the land side of the levee, separated from the current casino and third hotel. If the state grants permission, though, it might be viewed as a special favor for Harrah's.

Allow online gambling. Though early returns in Nevada and New Jersey have not been promising, state Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, and others believe allowing online gambling would help casinos prospect for new customers among younger people. House Gaming Committee Chairman Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, asked a Mississippi Gaming Commission task force to study Internet gambling and sports betting and submit a report by November.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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