Gulf casinos left off of House bill

Dec 13, 2005 3:21 AM

Congressman Frank Wolf’s done it again, bullying the House of Representatives last week into deleting casinos from Katrina relief legislation.

The possibility that this might occur was first reported in GT a week earlier.

The legislation is back in the Senate this week where we’ll see what happens as strategists work to restore the cuts demanded by the Virginia Republican.

At times like these, the industry misses the presence of Tom DeLay, lamented MGM Mirage Chairman Terry Lanni, who also serves as chairman of the American Gaming Association. DeLay could keep the troops in line, hammering lawmakers who wandered away from whatever good judgment required.

The usually mild-mannered Lanni was clearly unhappy that one of the gaming industry’s most outspoken foes had even a temporary victory, particularly since Wolf’s success ignored the reality of Gulf Coast needs where thousands of jobs hinge on the industry’s ability to recover quickly.

If the legislation were to be signed as it existed last week, all legal businesses except casinos and a handful of adult-oriented ventures would benefit from Washington’s helping hand.

But leave it to Wolf to tell ravaged residents of devastated communities what is good for them.

"I wonder what he expects these (out of work) people to do?" Lanni said.

The House action occurred just a few days before the appearance of a New York Times editorial that asked if President Bush and Congress had forgotten the promise of months ago to rebuild New Orleans. As this editorial noted, three months after Katrina blew itself out, New Orleans "is in shambles."

Harrah’s New Orleans alone employed some 2,500 people. But, as Wolf put it, some businesses do not deserve help. Wolf chose to lump casinos with liquor stores, country clubs and massage parlors as businesses that are unworthy of assistance. That notion is so ridiculous you couldn’t make it up.

Lanni said he’d love to buy Wolf a one-way ticket to South America. "I suppose he thinks those people are more deserving of his help than the residents of Louisiana and Mississippi who lost much of what they had," Lanni said.

Moreover, the man is "disingenuous," Lanni said, using the phrase a couple of times, referring to Wolf’s railing against legal casinos, which directly or indirectly account for tens of thousands of lost jobs in the storm-stricken areas.

But it’s not the Virginia congressman’s opposition to casinos that bothers Lanni since everyone has a right to a personal conclusion about gambling.

What irks Lanni is Wolf’s preference for distortions and crippled thinking in discussing casinos.

We’ve seen that Wolf has little use for the facts about the gaming industry, tending to suck rational thinking out of a room when he gets rolling with his message that casinos of any kind represent a plague to be exterminated wherever they are found.

Nevertheless, the likelihood is that casinos will be restored to the legislation by the time the Senate and a conference committee finish their work. But gaming leaders were not discussing strategy late last week.

The worrisome news is that relief aid expected months ago has once again been delayed

But as another senior executive at a public company explained, full Gulf Coast recovery is further away than many people would like to believe.

He said, "We’re still far from the point where we’ve given any thought to whether this legislation will affect what we do. We’re working with the insurance companies, still trying to decide what we’ll get and then we’ll be looking more closely at how we want to spend it."

Wolf’s opposition to casinos is an old story, but it has to be discouraging to some industry leaders who would like to believe it is long past time for myths about gaming to die under the crushing weight of a long list of facts about the gaming and entertainment business as an economic driver.

Maybe Trent Lott, a former senate majority leader, will take Wolf out to lunch, and have a nice talk with him. Wolf could certainly use an attitude adjustment.