Bill to be proposed to allow barge gambling

LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) – Dockside barge casinos in southwestern Louisiana would provide stiffer competition to an Indian reservation casino that is popular with Texas gamblers and pays no state taxes, a legislator says.

Floating casinos in Louisiana would be allowed to replace their riverboats with dockside barges under a bill that would be introduced at a special legislative session that may be held to consider a tax cut for the New Orleans casino, a legislator said Monday.

Rep. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, said that permanent barge casinos could generate up to $100 million in extra annual revenue.

Barges are used by dockside casinos in Mississippi.

Johns said legislation probably will be filed in early March in anticipation that a special lawmaking session will be called that month to deal with a tax cut for Harrah’s New Orleans Casino. That casino says it will close March 31 without a break from its $100 million minimum annual state tax.

Currently, only riverboat casinos in Shreveport-Bossier City are allowed to stay dockside fulltime. However, the cruising requirement for the other boats is largely unenforced.

Lake Charles has a pair of two-boat casino complexes, but they face stiff competition for Texas gamblers from a reservation casino in nearby Kinder. Also, the Delta Downs race track at nearby Vinton is expected to have slot machines in the future.

“With our boats here, we feel like surely it would allow them to compete on a more even scale with the Indian casino,” Johns said. “We are getting no revenue out of the Indians, and we can’t do a thing about it.”

Johns said all boats would be permitted to stay dockside, but those who chose to do so would pay a state tax of 21.5 percent on gambling winnings, instead of the current 18.5 percent rate. Casinos that substituted barges for their boats would pay 23.5 percent.

The bill must be considered during a special session because it involves a tax increase that cannot be considered during this year’s regular legislative session.

As a backup, Rep. Vic Stelly, R-Moss Bluff, said he plans to file another dockside bill in the regular legislative session that would permit dockside gambling in Lake Charles without any increase in gambling taxes.

Dockside gambling would have to be approved by local voter referendums that the casinos would pay for, Stelly said.

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