Gaming tax checks are lowest since ’06|[05/14/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Gaming tax checks received by local governments in April were the smallest since November 2006 and left year-to-date collections about $200,000 short of the previous year’s pace.

“We’re seeing a slight decrease in revenues as a result of the slowdown in our economy, however, I do believe this will be short-lived,” said Mississippi Gaming Commission Deputy Director Allen Godfrey.

The city’s four casinos yielded a total of $584,565 in the revenue-base for April’s report. Since the beginning of the fiscal year in October, a total of $4.66 million has been collected in revenue tax, compared to $4.83 million through April of the previous fiscal year.

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At a glanceGaming revenue tax collections from Vicksburg’s four casinos for fiscal years through April:2005-06$5,939,1692006-07$4,831,9802007-08$4,664,033The previous fiscal year is considered an anomaly due to Hurricane Katrina, which closed all Gulf Coast casino operations for varying periods of time and resulted in a million-dollar boost shared by Vicksburg, Warren County and Vicksburg Warren School District treasuries. Collections through April of the 2005-06 years were $5.93 million.

Weekly, casinos here turn over 3.2 percent of the money patrons leave behind to the state Tax Commission, which rebates the money monthly. Totals are divided with 65 percent to the city, 25 percent to the county and 10 percent to public schools. Additionally, a 0.8 percent share added to the state’s 8 percent revenue tax is split based on population proportions between the city and county. Vicksburg and Warren also impose $150 per gaming position annual fees.

Statewide tax collections for April have not yet been released. Since the first casino opened in Mississippi in August 1992, the state has collected $4.2 billion via the revenue tax.

In Vicksburg, a mix of casino-related news shows signs of a market in flux. Two parent companies have filed for bankruptcy protection while a fifth casino readies to open and another is near completion of a large-scale expansion. Meanwhile, the city’s first casino college opened its doors recently to serve a local market of about 2,100 jobs.

In March, the parent of DiamondJacks Casino filed for Chapter 11 protection, in a move CEO Michael Kelly has said was strictly made to get a federal judge to rule on disputed interest rates paid to lenders on a $215 million loan. The case is still under consideration, and operations have continued as normal as the casino works to complete an estimated $10 million remodeling project.

Earlier this month, Tropicana Entertainment – which owns Vicksburg’s Horizon Casino and about a dozen others across the country – also filed for Chapter 11 protection. Horizon Regional Director of Marketing Ginny Tzotzolas said the filing will not affect a planed sale of the casino this summer to Houston-based Nevada Gold, which is still pursuing a Mississippi gaming license.

Riverwalk Casino, the city’s fifth, is under construction near Rainbow Casino and slated to open in November. Ameristar Casino is near completion on a $100 million expansion project, which includes a larger gaming area, two restaurants, VIP lounge and a 1,000-space parking garage.

The Casino College of Mississippi Vicksburg Campus began classes on April 28, providing training of all table games.

Last week Gov. Haley Barbour said he will call up a bill during the upcoming special session that would place a moratorium of sorts on casinos, limiting the new construction of casinos to counties that have them. The bill was narrowly defeated during the regular session. Additionally, Barbour continues to oppose a state lottery or any increase in the casino tax.

The 1990 legislation that invited casinos to the state limited them to counties on the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River that did not hold referendums and reject developments. Many counties without casinos – including Issaquena and Claiborne in this area – would remain eligible for development without the law.

Casinos pay an array of taxes, including property taxes on their developments and sales taxes on hotel rooms, meals and other transactions. They do not pay state corporate income taxes.