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Monday, Jan. 29, 2018

Is It Time To Modernize Louisiana Gaming Laws?

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Like it or not, gaming in Louisiana is big business. And especially in Shreveport- Bossier.

And like it or not, increased competition from Texas, Mississippi and Arkansas is threatening to further injure, if not eventually kill, the golden goose that gaming represents.

Louisiana casino revenues in 2016 were $916 million. In comparison, mineral revenues for 2016 were $581 million. (Total 2017 revenue numbers are not yet available.)

The casino industry wants an expansion of the gaming revenues and tax relief to remain competitive.

Specifically, the casinos want to get off the riverboats and operate on land — near a waterway, but on dry land. Current law requires all gambling to take place over water and in a riverboat.

Casinos also want more space for more slot machines and gaming tables.

Current law limits gambling space to 30,000 square feet. To expand their customer base, casinos want larger slot machines, more comfortable chairs and more bells and whistles.

And lastly, the casinos want a tax break on promotional free play cards that are used to get customers in the doors. Currently, the “free money” is taxed at 21 percent.

The casino industry will not ask the legislature to license more casinos — which currently is capped at 15.

Additionally, online sports betting and other expansions of the gaming industry probably will not be proposed in hopes of not alienating the “church opposition.”

Much like the semantics used to initially legalize gambling by calling the industry “gaming,” the legislative amendments are being characterized as “modernizing” versus “expansion.”

On the local front, Bossier Chamber of Commerce president Lisa Johnson, Greater Bossier Economic Development Foundation executive director Rocky Rockett and Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce president Tim Magner all made a sales pitch to the Riverboat Economic Development and Gaming Task Force in December 2016.

Collectively, they emphasized the importance of gaming to the Shreveport and Bossier economies. They also stressed the need to update the gaming laws that have been on the books for 22 years.

"The casino industry wants an expansion of the gaming revenues and tax relief to remain competitive.”

The local officials acknowledged that gaming is generating less money due to limitations on gaming space, the high tax rate and failures to upgrade to compete with other markets.

Locally 6,000 people are employed by the casinos. There is also a large number of local businesses that provide both services and supplies to the casinos.

Much like the loss of AT&T, the General Motors plant, General Electric and Gould Battery, the local casinos will need to become more competitive to survive in this market. And like the economic blows these closures dealt to the local economy, the casinos are now on the endangered species list.

It’s not rocket science to understand the need to update the gaming laws. Hopefully, “church politics” will not overlook the importance of the casinos to the local economy. With Louisiana’s continuing fiscal crises, no one can logically oppose these requested changes.

John E. Settle Jr. has been a resident of Shreveport since January 1977. His articles appear regularly in local publications. He can be reached at 742-5513 or e-mail to: John@jesettle.com.

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