Signature gathering for casino tax increase fails

CARSON CITY - An initiative petition to force a casino tax increase will fail from organizational deficiencies, not for lack of support, according to its sponsor.

State Sen. Joe Neal, D-North Las Vegas, said he does not think he can get the required 44,009 signatures of registered voters to increase gambling taxes by 80 percent on top grossing casinos. Neal needs to collect the minimum number of signatures by Tuesday to force the 2001 Legislature to consider his gambling tax increase.

But Neal, who pushed unsuccessfully to raise gambling taxes in the 1999 legislative session, said the tax increase fight is not dead.

''I don't think we've lost anything,'' Neal said. ''I'm still in the Legislature even though the gaming industry made a run on me. I'll be part of any tax debate.''

Neal said widespread support for the petition drive could not be translated into volunteer support for gathering the required signatures.

Neal said he will consider a fund-raising drive to get enough money to hire professionals to gather signatures on a new petition if the 2001 Legislature does not address tax issues adequately.

Bill Bible, president of the Nevada Resort Association, said was not surprised to learn that Neal's petition failed.

''I have a strong suspicion it would not have qualified in any county,'' he said. ''What happened was that when people were presented with this petition and took the time to understand what it meant, they declined to sign it.''

A Las Vegas Review-Journal and poll in June showed 63 percent of respondents supported Neal's initiative, and 26 percent opposed it.

Bible said Neal's attempt to single out the gambling industry for a tax increase was not well-received by the last Legislature.

Most policy-makers realize that when gambling's share of taxes to state and local governments is calculated, gambling clearly is paying more than its fair share, Bible said.

Neal says he is not the only lawmaker who thinks gambling is not paying enough taxes. A bill draft request submitted anonymously by a lawmaker Aug. 22 proposes to increase the gross gambling tax by 1.75 percentage points to 8 percent. Top-grossing casinos pay 6.25 percent.

The idea of a 1.75 percentage point gambling tax increase is just shy of his original 1999 proposal to increase gambling taxes by 2 percentage points, Neal said.

When that measure failed to gain a second vote in committee in 1999, Neal filed the initiative with the secretary of state seeking to increase the tax rate on casinos generating more than $1 million in monthly gambling revenue from 6.25 percent to 11.25 percent.

That 80 percent increase would have raised about $388 million a year.


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