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Casino tax collections millions below after Katrina

Mississippi’s casino tax collections were down about 18 percent for the fiscal year that recently ended, a drop-off anticipated after Hurricane Katrina temporarily wiped out the Gulf Coast market.

Gaming tax collections for fiscal year 2006, which ended June 30, were about $61 million less than collections for the previous year.

Nonetheless, gaming officials are optimistic about the industry, saying it continues on a robust rebound as more coast casinos prepare to reopen this fall.

Total tax collections for fiscal 2006 was $273.5 million. That compares to $334.6 million in fiscal 2005.

“Everybody knew after the storm there was going to be a decrease. We just didn’t know how much,” said Kathy Waterbury, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi State Tax Commission.

Waterbury said the early estimate for casino tax revenue for the state general fund was $189.3 million. The actual collection was $145.7 million.

The state keeps a portion of the gaming tax collections. Other amounts are transferred to the counties and cities where casinos operate and to a bond sinking fund.

The state levies an 8 percent tax on casino gross revenue. Local governments can levy up to 4 percent.

Mississippi had 29 state-regulated casinos along the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River before Katrina destroyed the 12 along the coast on Aug. 29, 2005.

The Gulf Coast casinos accounted for about 45 percent of Mississippi’s gaming market; the river casinos made up the other 55 percent.

Five coast casinos have reopened and another five are expected to resume operation by the fall.

Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, said a revenue reduction was expected. He said a good sign was that gross gaming revenue from the reopened coast casinos totaled about $600 million from the end of December until June 30, about half of what the gaming houses took in during the previous year.

“We’re just witnessing a remarkable recovery,” Gregory said, adding that about 13,000 industry jobs will be available by September.

Beverly Martin, executive director of the Mississippi Casino Operators Association, said the closure of coast casinos likely boosted business at the gaming houses in Vicksburg and Tunica.

Martin said a lack of hotel rooms has hampered the coast. There were 16,000 rooms on the coast before Katrina, now there’s about 6,800, and many are housing construction workers, she said.