Gamers: No new taxes?

Jan 22, 2002 7:12 AM

Nevada’s tax task force says it’s too early to say what taxes may be raised, but the casino industry is gaining allies in its bid to head off efforts to boost the gaming levy.

Knight Allen, a Las Vegas-based taxpayer advocate, told the governor’s tax force last week that the state’s gaming tax is keeping pace with inflation ”” and doesn’t need to be raised. In persuasive testimony, Allen stated that gaming taxes go up every year.

“You’ve been told that the sales tax is inflation proof. And that’s true,’’ he said, noting that when the price of goods goes up, so do tax revenues. Likewise, Allen added, the gaming tax is also inflation proof. “I’m here to tell you that a $5 bet is not a $5 bet,’’ he said.

By that he means that the cost of gambling goes up, too. One-dollar blackjack tables and $3 poker games are few and far between these days. Even nickel slots have gone upscale, with multi-coin, multi-line machines capable of gobbling up as much as $40 per pull.

Allen’s larger point was that state revenues continue to grow ”” and they’re growing at a rate that exceeds Nevada’s prodigious population gains (despite misleading reports to the contrary in other media).

The panel, chaired by former Clark County numbers man Guy Hobbs, is already wary of hiking the gaming tax. Two key members ”” Mike Sloan and Brian Greenspun ”” represent Nevada’s No. 1 industry, and sources say they are zeroing in on ways to bring non-gaming businesses “to the table.” In Nevada, casinos are the only businesses that pay any form of corporate income tax.

Sloan, a Mandalay Resorts vice president who served in the Legislature and knows the political ropes, has been outspoken in calling for other sectors to ease the state’s impending budget deficits. Observers of the panel’s first two meetings note that Sloan is regarded as the most knowledgeable and assertive member of the committee.

“When he talks, people listen,’’ said one.

Greenspun, owner of the Las Vegas Sun and other media properties, is also said to be sensitive to the industry’s position now that his family is an equity holder in casinos, most recently Green Valley Ranch Station.

State sales taxes currently make up almost 25 percent of the state’s general fund revenue while the gaming tax yielded 24.5 percent, according to deputy state controller Jim Wells. When casinos’ property taxes are included, the gaming industry accounts for the lion’s share of the state’s operating revenue.

If higher taxes are recommended, insiders are betting that new or higher levies on tobacco and alcohol will lead the list, along with incremental increases in a variety of fees that haven’t been raised in decades.

With Strip casinos taking a hit since 9/11, industry leaders and politicians publicly agree that boosting the gaming tax would just deliver another body blow to the Silver State’s economy.