Gamers disappointed in Katrina relief package

Dec 20, 2005 1:56 AM

Gaming industry leaders finally got their hurricane relief legislation last week, but they weren’t jumping for joy about it.

Senators were able to restore only some of the cuts demanded by gaming’s No. 1 foe, Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf, who never misses a chance to beat up on casinos.

Wolf and his followers seemed to ignore the fact that casinos are a big driver of the Gulf Coast economies in Mississippi and Louisiana, generating about 40,000 direct and indirect jobs, and that’s before the millions in tax revenues generated by these businesses and their employees.

Wolf, a Republican, is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, meaning, "He can swing votes because a lot of people don’t want to be on his bad side," a Congressional source confided.

In this case, Wolf was threatening to scuttle the entire Katrina relief bill unless casinos were cut out. As things stand now, non-casino development (hotels, spas, restaurants, etc.,) will be eligible for benefits but not gaming areas.

Wolf was successful a couple weeks ago in getting casinos cut out of anything that sounded like an incentive. He was successful because House Republicans need his vote and the votes of other like-minded lawmakers as proposed tax cuts and other budget matters come before the House.

It’s not that gaming needs any kind of legislative incentive to rebuild on the Gulf Coast. Mississippi casinos will be rebuilt without regard to what happens in Washington.

But the industry continues waging an important public relations battle. Its leaders want to be treated as any other legal business.

It’s become a matter of principle and the need to re-fight certain image battles has some gaming industry leaders clenching their teeth.