Moak Statement on Closure of Harrah’s Casino
Today Harrah’s announced they are closing their casino in the Tunica market. This is a loss of Thirteen-Hundred (1300) Mississippi jobs, not to mention a tremendous blow to the credibility and future viability of our Mississippi gaming market. Casinos are a legal business in our state. They account for over twenty-five thousand direct jobs and, in particular, are the main reason Tunica was able to remove itself as one of the poorest counties in the nation.
Leadership in our state has refused to afford this vital industry the tax incentives and credits it offers to existing businesses or even those used to lure in new industries. We are now paying the price for this with the loss of jobs and tax revenues to local governments and the state. Contrary to popular belief, casinos are not immune to both economic downturns and the dramatic impact of the growth of out-of-state gaming operations in neighboring states such as Arkansas. We are no longer the only game in town. Regional gaming competition is not a phenomena that ends in Tunica, either. It is one of the most dangerous threats to the Mississippi gaming markets and lurks around the corner in states like Alabama, Florida and beyond.
No taxpayer funds are expended when a new casino enters our Mississippi market and creating, on average, 1,500 good-paying jobs. In return for their investment, Mississippi does not treat this industry as others within our borders. Mississippi offers no credit for hotel renovations or infrastructure, no credit for restaurant construction/improvements and does not even allow front line employee training, as other businesses are allowed to do, at the community college level – even though they pay taxes to support the community college system.
There is lacking a vision by Mississippi leadership to look at other jurisdictions and implement sound business investment incentives to take care of the casino industry that now resides in our state and foster growth and reinvestment by existing operators. With the closure of Harrah’s Tunica, we are seeing what happens when we exclude this industry from our overall state business investment model.
This industry must be allowed the opportunity to develop assets that not only help their bottom line, but state coffers as well. It has been almost 3 years since the federal government opened the door to internet gaming at the state level. Mississippi has refused to even consider allowing this to be developed in our state. While I am not asserting that internet gaming is the silver bullet that will allow gaming in Mississippi to regain its foothold, there is no doubt that it is but one tool of many that could be effectively employed to increase the attractiveness of this market to gaming-centric tourists. Harrah’s is a leader in the internet gaming effort in the halls of Congress and states around the nation. We have continually shut the door on them and others who have a broader vision as to how this industry will operate in the future.
In FY 2009 Mississippi was 3rd in the nation in gaming in terms of gross gaming revenue – we are now 8th. Gaming tax revenues have dropped from 172.4 million to 130 million (estimate) during the same time period. When a new gaming operation seeks to move into a state, they look for a fair tax environment and stable government leadership. We have done nothing in the last three years to help our Mississippi gaming industry compete in a global marketing environment.
MS House Democrats Press Release