Gulf Casinos Face Longer Odds

The rebuilding of the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s gaming industry could face an uphill battle with legislation that was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives December 7th. It excludes casinos and other business from tax breaks intended to spur economic recovery in the region after hurricanes Katrina and Wilma.

Casinos were lumped in with massage parlors, liquor stores, hot tub facilities, country clubs, racetracks and tanning salons in the exclusion – businesses frowned upon by social conservatives on Capitol Hill.

Other lawmakers argued that the measure unfairly targets a legal industry that employed about 50,000 people in the hard-hit states of Louisiana and Mississippi and generated more than $770 million annually in tax revenues, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“It would be very difficult, almost impossible, to go to a town meeting sometime and say that I, or the Congress, supported giving tax breaks to rebuild a casino, a massage parlor or a liquor store,” the Times quoted Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) as saying.

“This thing of trying to impose personal beliefs into law, people are starting to get carried away with it,” Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) told the paper in an interview.

Melancon reportedly voted for the measure because of the financial benefit it would provide for his region.

The measure, despite its approval in the House, still faces negotiation in conference committee with members of the Senate, where there is significant opposition from influential senators including Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).

On the Mississippi Coast, 13 floating casinos were shut down by Katrina in late August, including several that were subsequently demolished because of structural damage. One is expected to reopen in December and two others have plans to follow suit in early in 2006.