Legislator considers casino tax increase - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Legislator considers casino tax increase

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Roslyn Anderson - bio | email

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – Will lawmakers raise taxes on casinos?

It's being considered by one legislator who requested an overall study of the gaming industry in hopes of putting more money into state programs.

Rep. George Flaggs, Jr. of Warren County, home to four casinos, requested a comprehensive review of the state's gaming industry.

John C. Stennis Institute research analyst Judith Phillips presented an overview comparing Mississippi to other states with commercial casinos like Louisiana and Illinois.

Mississippi casinos have a 12% tax rate, eight percent goes to the state while local governments receive four percent.

Louisiana has a 21.5% tax rate, in Illinois it's 20%.

Rep. Flaggs, a Gaming Committee member, maintains that increasing gaming taxes could fund more state programs, especially Early Childhood Education.

"This state can not continue to fund education at its level, community junior colleges or support Early Childhood Education and Medicaid and other health care unless they look at some alternative means to generating some revenue," said Flaggs.

Last year the state's 30 casinos brought in $2.46 billion and tax revenues were $296 million.

That's down 9.4% from 2008-2009.

The analyst listed the downed economy, Hurricane Katrina, and the Gulf Oil Spill as factors in the decline.

The State Gaming Commission opposes a tax increase.

Commission Executive Director Larry Gregory said the state's free market system shouldn't be compared to other states with limited licenses and different tax structures.

"I think right now the industry has put billions of dollars in infrastructure, provided 25,000 jobs for the state and for the tourism side of it, and provided a good stable market for this state," said Gregory.

Some lawmakers believe with casinos like Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville and others coming to the coast, momentum could shift and growth could be stalled.

"If Mississippi jumps out and raises taxes we won't be one of the states under consideration when people do get ready to spend money or spend more on renovations," said Gaming Committee Chairman Representative Bobby Moak.

The report ranks the state as having the fourth highest gross casino gaming revenues among 12 states.

Rep. Flaggs said he has no intentions of introducing any bills to raise any taxes this year, but suggests a casino tax hike should be a consideration for future legislative sessions.

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