|By Tom Wilemon, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Dec. 2, 2004 - BILOXI, Miss. -- "Boardwalk of Dreams," a new book about Atlantic City, offers some lessons for Biloxi, the Coast and state politicians.
The book, written by professor Bryant Simon of Temple University, gives a historical perspective of the city and tells why legalized gambling has been a disappointment. One answer lies with the taxes.
The state of New Jersey receives all the revenue from an 8 percent tax on gross gambling revenues, while Atlantic City receives practically nothing.
Simon in his book gives a grim picture of the city, writing that visitors are reluctant to leave the confines of the casinos because they view Atlantic City "as a place to be avoided at all costs."
"What's left behind for those who still live there -- the people who can't be erased -- is a rough world with few public amenities," Simon writes. "The city parks are desolate patches of crabgrass and rimless basketball courts; the public library and sole supermarket are virtual fortresses protected by metal detectors and private security guards."
Casinos are obligated to invest 1.25 percent of their revenues for community redevelopment projects, but the city has little control over that money, which is spent throughout the state.
Under Mississippi's tax formula, the state receives 8 percent of gross gambling revenues and local governments receive 4 percent -- money that is spent to build roads, educate children, erect museums, rehabilitate neighborhoods and provide law enforcement.
Coast leaders, who are plugged into the political grapevine, say that the Legislature is poised to change the tax formula next year so that the state receives more and local governments receive less. Gov. Haley Barbour has so far sidestepped questions as to whether he would veto or oppose changing the tax formula.
A scenario just as bad would be for the state to raise the casino tax rate, which would discourage new development in Mississippi and ultimately cause the state to receive less money.
With each passing year, Atlantic City receives less reinvestment money from its casinos as the 1.25 percent obligation is spread throughout New Jersey.
So how is Atlantic City left to pay for the infrastructure demands created by casinos?
The state of Mississippi may avoid raising income taxes next year in part by raiding the Coast's share of casino income. When your property taxes go up to cover budget shortfalls at the local level, don't blame your mayor, your supervisor or your city council. Blame the Legislature and your governor.
Tom Wilemon covers casinos for The Sun Herald. He can be reached at 896-2354 or email@example.com.
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