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Gaming Guru

Steve Tetreault

Nevada Reps Back Gulf Effort

3 October 2005

WASHINGTON -- Nevada lawmakers launched a campaign Friday to support gaming companies seeking the government's help to rebuild casinos damaged or destroyed by Gulf Coast hurricanes.

Gaming is a lifeblood of the Gulf economy and deserving of storm recovery tax breaks President Bush has proposed, the three Nevada members of the U.S. House said in a letter sent to other lawmakers.

The Nevadans were moving to blunt gaming industry criticism by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va.

Wolf, a longtime critic of legalized gambling, has contacted the White House to argue that casinos are inherently profitable and do not merit tax breaks, his chief of staff said this week.

Wolf, who opposes gambling on moral grounds, said government backing of casino reconstruction "would be a disgrace."

Reps. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., and Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., are co-leaders of the House Gaming Caucus. In the letter on Friday, they and Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., touted gaming's economic profile in Mississippi and Louisiana.

In Mississippi, the industry supplies 28,932 jobs and accounts for $1 billion annually in wages and tips. Gaming pays $333 million annually to in state and local taxes, they said.

Louisiana casinos employ 20,000 people and pay more than $486 million in wages and tips, they said.

"Those employers who provide jobs to the largest number of people should be afforded the same benefits to put those people back to work as all other businesses," the lawmakers said.

Casinos that were damaged or destroyed included those owned by MGM Mirage, Boyd Gaming Corp. and Harrah's Entertainment, which also operate in Las Vegas.

Aides said the Nevadans planned to seek co-signers from other states before forwarding the letter to Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Ways and Means is preparing to consider legislation that would offer tax-exempt bonds, tax depreciation and other benefits for companies seeking to rebuild following Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.