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GAMBLING AND TOURISM: Bet on the Nevada casino tax increase spre

By Daniel Michaels, May 20th 2005
Bite-size news nuggets from industry analysts, The Star's many wire services and other sources:

How bad is the nationwide funding crisis facing state governments?

For the first time perhaps in living memory, the Nevada Legislature last week approved a tax increase on casinos -- the state's dominant and some say domineering industry.

Fulcrum Global Partners analyst Joseph Greff said he expects the governor to sign the measure that bumps the top tax on gross revenues by a mere half percentage point, to 6.75 percent. But give Nevada lawmakers time to get the hang of this casino tax increase business.

You can bet they'll soon be back at the well, just like their insatiable counterparts in Illinois, who earlier this year raised the top tax on riverboats to 70 percent of gross -- up from 50 percent, which was up from the law's original 35 percent.

Missouri riverboats pay 20 percent off the top, but probably not for much longer.

Greff also reports that riverboat casinos in Indiana now offer 24-hour gambling, up from the old 21-hour-a-day limit.

Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. is the latest U.S. gaming company to announce its intention to enter the British casino market -- if Parliament deregulates the industry, as widely expected. Harrah's Entertainment Inc. and MGM Mirage earlier announced British partnerships.

A shilling for your pioneering thoughts on gambling across the pond, Bernie (Bernard Goldstein, Isle chairman, founder and the acknowledged father of modern riverboat gambling in the United States).

Harrah's, meanwhile, is the latest U.S. gaming company to announce it will begin paying stock dividends, joining a handful of fellow gaming industry giants, including Station Casinos Inc. and slot maker International Game Technology Inc.

For those who have never owned anything but gaming industry stocks, dividends are tidy little sums of money that companies give to stockholders, usually on a quarterly basis. Harrah's, for instance, said it will pay 30 cents a share each quarter.

This unprecedented profit-sharing fever beginning to sweep the industry is a welcome development.

Merrill Lynch analyst David W. Anders put it none too gently:

"Investors would prefer to have the cash in hand rather than see management teams squander it on projects with ever-declining returns."

Amen to that.

Anders was either prescient in May or watching very closely when he issued a report titled "Show Me the Money," which poked a finger at gaming companies and called for them to start paying up.

Since then, five have said they will.

For the record, Chicago-based fund and stock tracker Morningstar Inc. reports that of the 6,736 major issues it follows, 1,848, or 27 percent, paid dividends the past 12 months.

State officials have announced that the Kansas Travel Information Center in Belle Plaine, south of Wichita on Interstate 35, reopened last week, a year after fire swept through the structure. The highway stop includes a McDonald's and a Phillips 66 filling station.

The state's three centers, including one at Kansas Speedway and another in Goodland, Kan., draw around 350,000 visitors a year. State tourism officials report that 40 percent of those who stop change their travel plans and add new Kansas destinations to their itineraries.

Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia, last year claimed to be the first in the world to offer on-site, 24/7 counseling and professional assistance to problem gamblers.

Now Casinowire.com reports that the Aussie gambling parlor has installed software on its electronic games that allows gamblers to set their own betting loss limits. Alarms sound when the limit is reached and it's time to quit. However, the machines continue to accept bets.

I know of no American casino company confronting the industry's most vexing problem with such proactive assistance directly on its gaming floor. And I can think of none that would, unless forced.

A final reminder about that "Cost of the Game" session Thursday for families and friends of compulsive gamblers.

The evening advice session starts at 5:15 p.m. at the North Kansas City Community Center, 1999 Iron St. Refreshments will be served, and child care is available if reserved in advance.

Topics for discussion include symptoms, treatment and prevention strategies to help gamblers and those they affect cope with the problem.

A requested contribution of $5 per attending family benefits the Missouri Council on Problem Gambling.

If you think someone might need help, they do.

For more information, call (816) 468-0400 or (816) 283-3396.

Gregg Goldman, a University of Missouri-Columbia-trained photojournalist, helped Ameristar Casinos Inc. capture top honors in the 2003 AR100 competition for the best corporate annual report.

Some of the photos are starting to show up in Ameristar's local advertising as well.

Las Vegas-based Ameristar, with casino properties in four states, including Kansas City and St. Charles, Mo., announced it won Best of Show in the prestigious competition to determine the nation's best annual reports to shareholders.

A West Virginia native, Goldman owns Gregg Goldman Photography Inc. in St. Louis.

Ameristar's pocketbook-size report breaks sharply with stodgy annual report tradition.

The first 82 pages contain scant text and lavish images of each property, including mouth-watering close-ups of steaming menu items like the flatiron steak and grilled corn on the cob at the Kansas City casino's Great Plains Cattle Co. restaurant.

The last 64 pages contain all that boring business stuff typically found in annual reports.

The SARS scare is over in Toronto, but that Canadian city now is suffering from what one local wag has dubbed RATS: reluctant American tourist syndrome.

United Press International quoted Patrick Casey, a local official, as blaming the media for the sharp falloff in visitors over the worldwide health scare that claimed 38 lives in Toronto, the worst-hit North American city.

"Unfortunately, from a tourism standpoint, people would get their SARS update from CNN, and CNN would spend a lot of time to find someone walking around Toronto with a mask on," said Casey. "But that was not the reality here."



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