Casinos Pleased With Tax Incentive Proposals That Could Boost Tourism

BILOXI (WLOX) -- To entice the gaming industry to add more to their resorts, Mississippi lawmakers have proposed a tax incentive package for casinos. If a casino company invests money in theaters, amusement parks or other non-gaming amenities, it could get back as much as 30 percent of that investment.

The House and Senate have both approved the tax break concept. But their versions differ.

Proponents believe the tax incentives will encourage the development of tourist attractions around Mississippi.

One of those supporters is John Ed Ainsworth. His company controls Back Bay property next to Boomtown Casino. To turn Back Bay shrimp docks on that property, and an empty moving and storage warehouse across the street into Biloxi's next casino, Ainsworth figures he needs $340 million.

"When you're building something like this, you're looking for that little edge you need to get over the thing, to add a little more amenity, to make it a little better," said Ainsworth.

His company is called Bayview Gaming. And its edge is a tourism incentive bill brokered by lawmakers and lobbyists at the state capitol. A House bill and a Senate bill each reward casino companies that put at least $10 million of non-gaming amenities into their properties.

"This will not cause anything to be built, but it will cause it to be built better, quicker, and faster," he thought.

It will be Les McMackin's job to actually figure out how Bayview's casino, its 500 hotel rooms, its restaurants, and its other amenities should blend together. McMackin is a veteran of Mississippi's casino industry. Until now, casinos have never gotten tax breaks.

"The government has recognized the value that the industry has to the state," McMackin said. "It has offered these incentives to developers to bring more amenities in, because that's what's going to grow the tourism numbers, and the gaming revenue numbers in the state is more amenities. That's what customers want."

Since nobody knew about the tax break possibility when drawings of Bayview were first created, the resort's look may change, because the company's budget may change.

"For us, it's going back to the drawing board and saying okay, now that the playing field has changed, how can I take advantage of that, and how can I put more amenities into this structure," said McMackin.

The House bill gives a tax break for any retail shops included in a casino resort. The Senate's version doesn't. If House and Senate negotiators can find a compromise that straightens out their differences, Bayview Gaming will be that much closer to replacing back bay shrimp boats with a resort that caters to gamblers and other tourists.

"That's what you have to do to keep people coming back," said Ainsworth.

McMackin said the Bayview Gaming project could have its financing locked up in a couple of weeks. If that happens, and if the state tax break for casinos becomes law, the Back Bay resort could be one of the first to take advantage of the tourism incentive.