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September 19, 2014

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Where I Stand — Bill Bible: Protect gaming’s legacy

Editor's note: In August Where I Stand is written by guest columnists. Today's guest, Bill Bible, is president of the Nevada Resort Association.

ON MARCH 20 Nevada will mark the 70th anniversary of the legalization of gambling in this state. In 1931 Gov. Fred Balzar signed legislation legalizing gambling, thus forever changing the state's economy. I am sure that neither Balzar nor the legislation's prime sponsor, Assemblyman Phil Tobin of Winnemucca, understood the full power of the economic engine they created.

Today gaming towers over Nevada's economic environment as well as its urban skyline. The figures speak for themselves: Gaming directly employs more than 21 percent of the work force; indirectly creates jobs in the construction, service, transportation and other industries; pays over $600 million in taxes to state and local governments; and funds almost 45 percent of the state's general fund. What was viewed in 1931 as an activity that might lift the economy out of the Great Depression has proven to be an unparalleled economic boon for our state.

The primary gaming tax in Nevada is called the "gross gaming tax." Collected by the state, it is truly a gross tax -- the money comes off the top of a property's win, regardless of the property's marketing expenses, payroll or other operating costs. The tax is not related to a property's profitability or ability to pay.

Every month the state Gaming Control Board releases the latest collection figures from the gross proceeds tax, and every month the news media reports these figures. The headlines may read "Gaming win increases," "Nevada casinos have good month," or "Collection runs below projections."

It is important to go beyond the headlines to fully understand what the figures represent -- and what they do not. Collection figures only represent the amount that casinos won from the gambling activity or the collection of credit extended to patrons in past months. They do not represent industry profitability or an individual casino's earnings. The figures are aggregate, statewide gross revenue figures that should not be used to measure the industry's fiscal health.

The reader also needs to understand that year-to-year comparisons are not adjusted to reflect the tremendous growth -- in the number of properties, in casino square footage, and in the number of gaming devices. As new properties go online, existing properties may well see their individual gaming win decline and their "win per unit" from each slot and table decrease.

In addition to the "gross tax," gaming pays a number of other gaming-specific state taxes, including casino entertainment, quarterly slot, quarterly games, annual slot, annual games, as well as other general state taxes such as sales, property and business activity taxes. The gaming industry also contributes to local governments through a variety of taxes, including property taxes, local gaming taxes and room taxes. In fact, six of Nevada's 10 largest property taxpayers are gaming companies.

Over and above the millions of tax dollars paid each year, gaming corporations and their employees give hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars in charitable contributions and other services to the community.

Through jobs, taxes and charitable giving, gaming touches every aspect of the economy and most of our lives. If Gov. Balzar and Assemblyman Tobin could stand on the Strip today, they would surely marvel at what their legislation helped create. Not only did they take gaming out of the backrooms, legalize it and tax it, but they also gave Nevada its greatest economic development and job creation tool. We must strive to protect that legacy.

As we approach the 70th anniversary of legalized gaming, the Nevada Resort Association and its member properties would like to take this opportunity to recognize the contributions of the men and women who comprise the face of gaming in Nevada. The state's gaming employees, as much as leaders such as Balzar, Tobin and their successors, have made gaming -- and, to a large extent, Nevada -- what it is today.

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