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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

States see gambling as an answer

18 January 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Now that Pennsylvania is a done deal, the gaming industry is focused on other expansion opportunities.

While issues are being debated and proposed in several states, new growth doesn't seem imminent.

State elected leaders view gaming taxes as a way of narrowing budget deficits brought on by the recession. Pennsylvania is allowing its slot mahine-only casinos and racetracks to add table games in exchange for licensing fees and a 16 percent tax on gaming revenues.

"Even with the difficult fiscal environment most states find themselves in, we see few new gaming expansion opportunities," said Janney Montgomery Scott gaming analyst Brian McGill.

Ohio is the only state with a gambling ballot question in 2010. Last year, Ohio voters approved four full-scale casinos. In November, the state is seeking permission for racetracks to add 17,500 slot machines.

Otherwise, gaming debates will be handled inside state legislative houses.

McGill predicts Massachusetts could be the only state to legalize casinos this year. Legislative leaders, including Gov. Deval Patrick, are tired of watching potential tax dollars being gambled away in neighboring Connecticut. Lawmakers want gaming but questions surround what form should be allowed.

"We remain cautiously optimistic that gaming can pass," McGill said.

Casinos have also been discussed in Kentucky.

Unlike Massachusetts, there is a split. The governor and House leaders support gaming; Senate leadership is solidly opposed. With a potential $1 billion budget shortfall and neighboring Ohio adding casinos and possibly racetrack slot machines, the matter will resurface.

Illinois gaming authorities are working toward adding 25,000 to 30,000 video gaming machines as part of a $30 billion capital works program. But it may take 12 months to approve the systems and regulatory structure.