Before snow, ice and frigid temps effectively shut down the state, the Riverboat Gaming Task Force met to finalize their economic development recommendations for the industry. There are two.
The first would allowing gaming floors to be moved on land — if the casino also makes significant improvements to its overall facility.
“What we're after here is reinvestment in the property to make sure that it's promoting the economy, not just moving gaming from over water onto land,” explains Ronnie Jones, chair of both this task force and the state Gaming Control Board.
The other proposal changes measurement of maximum gaming space from 30,000 square feet to 2,365 gaming positions — thus accommodating the larger modern video slots.
Wade Duty with the Louisiana Casino Association says, “This does not double, triple, or even increase the present number of gaming opportunities.”
But Jones remarked, somewhat cynically, “Anything we do could be considered by some to be an expansion of gaming.”
Task force members, who have been working on this project for 17 months, also discussed items they did not recommend, such as permitting sports betting.
“That's going to be important to the future of gaming in Louisiana,” Jones says.”That may well be part of an answer to solving some of the revenue problems in the state, but I'm not sure it's something that this task force can really address. Sports betting is bigger than riverboats.”
In addition, casino operators had urged removal of the taxes they now pay on promotional play, since Mississippi doesn’t have the same requirement. But Senator Danny Martiny says due to the fiscal cliff, the state currently can’t afford it.
“I think the figure I heard was somewhere around an $18-million hole in the budget, and that is an absolute non-starter.”
Senator Ronnie Johns, who will author the bills to implement the task force recommendations during the upcoming legislative session, added he's not averse to continuing to work on the issue.
“We know that this is a huge issue for the industry, and it's something that we absolutely want to address — if we can come up with a proposal that would be at least revenue-neutral.”