Governor Says No New Casino Taxes, No New Casino Counties - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

05/05/04

Governor Says No New Casino Taxes, No New Casino Counties

Governor Barbour mixed a little humor into his very serious message about Mississippi's casino industry.

"Look, we've always had gambling in Mississippi," he told Southern Gaming Summit delegates. "Just today, they play with square dice and the winners get paid."

The audience laughed at the joke. And then they intently listened to what Mississippi's second republican governor had to say about casinos.

"Your industry is getting a lot of people to come here and look," he said, praising the casinos for strengthening Mississippi's tourism base. "They like what they see."

The governor was one of two keynote speakers at the opening session of the Southern Gaming Summit. He listed what his administration considers four key issues pertaining to Mississippi casinos. Issue number one focused on taxes.

"I'm against raising anybody's taxes period," he said.

Casino executives applauded because the no new tax pledge allows them to invest in their Mississippi properties. At least that's what Beau Rivage parent company boss Terrence Lanni told delegates when it was his turn to speak.

"I can honestly say this is where we should encourage additional capital expenditure, right here in Mississippi, because it's a friendly atmosphere," Lanni said during his talk.

Among the capital improvements are renovated hotel rooms, and a golf course.

Issue number two for Governor Barbour focused on regulation. The governor said Mississippi should continue to strictly regulate the casinos. He also brought up the makeup of the three member gaming commission. Barbour said he has two slots to fill on that regulatory panel.

One appointment will replace Robin Robinson, because he wants her to sit on the college board. Speculation is the other appointment will replace Len Blackwell.

The gaming commission chairman is a Ronnie Musgrove appointee. And Blackwell's term expires September 30th. Governor Barbour said his choices for the gaming commission should be announced before May 27th.

Barbour brought up the regulatory issue in a private pre-speech talk with organizers of the summit.  Casino executive John Ferrucci was part of that meeting. 

"He told us that we're not going to be disappointed with the way gaming proceeds in the future.  And we believe him," the head of the Gulf Coast Casino Operators said.

Issue number three -- the governor believes Mississippi shouldn't adopt a state lottery. And four -- Barbour said casinos should only float in the counties where they're already legal.

"I'm against expanding gaming in Mississippi beyond the counties where it is now," he told industry leaders. "We're not going to allow gaming in areas where they don't want it."

Before he finished, the governor challenged the 29 Mississippi casinos, and their 40,000 employees to help the state raise its expectations.

"As we prepare to work together for Mississippi's future," he said, "I appreciate that you and your industry and your employees are part of that future."

by Brad Kessie

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