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tiggerpolice 06-16-2005 08:32 AM

Senate panel approves slots bill for the Saints
Senate panel approves slots bill for the Saints
6/14/2005, 4:47 p.m. CT
The Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Against the governor's wishes and after a revote on the proposal, a Senate committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would tap a gambling source as a way to help make the state's annual payments to the Saints: slot machines at the airport in New Orleans.

voter from Jefferson Parish, where the Louis Armstrong International Airport is located, would have to approve the slot machines before they would be placed in the four airport terminals. And that's why Sen. Ken Hollis, R-Metairie, said he decided to change his vote.

The House-approved bill by Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, initially failed in the Senate Judiciary B Committee until Hollis switched his position in a second vote, sending the measure to the full Senate for debate.

"This was not an easy vote for me, and I thought about it after I voted no ... Let the people of Jefferson decide," Hollis said, explaining his change of heart.

The bill initially failed in committee in a 3-4 vote, but with Hollis' change and one lawmaker absent from the committee room, the panel backed the bill in a 4-2 vote on the second try — over the opposition of the committee chairman and Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

Terry Ryder, Blanco's chief lawyer, said the governor opposed the bill because she was against any expansion of gambling.

But supporters of the bill said it may be the most viable way to come up with new dollars to help pay for the state's obligation to the Saints since New Orleans lawmakers disagree on the governor's proposal to raise taxes on New Orleans hotels, rental cars and football tickets to raise cash for the NFL team. Those tax proposals remain stalled in a House committee.

Richmond said some New Orleans lawmakers feel those taxes could address the city's other needs that are a higher priority than keeping the Saints, like public safety and job training. But he said the slot machines would generate money from mainly out-of-town visitors that could be used for the Saints.

Annual shortfalls are projected in the state's payments to the Saints as part of a 10-year, $186 million agreement negotiated by Gov. Mike Foster's administration in 2001. The state is estimated to be about $9 million short on its $15 million payment due to the Saints on July 5.

Slot machines would be placed in areas open only to ticketed passengers at Armstrong airport, past security checkpoints and in enclosed areas — if local voters approve.

A 21.5 percent tax would be placed on slot machine proceeds, and estimates are that the machines could raise anywhere from $15 million to $28 million a year, though supporters of the bill questioned those estimates.

"I don't know that it's going to be the bonanza that we hope it will be," said Rep. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner.

If there's any money left after the payment to the Saints is made each year, any additional money would be split among police and firefighter pay in New Orleans, Jefferson Parish government and the city of Kenner.

In the second vote that approved the bill, Sens. Charles "C.D." Jones, D-Monroe; Ed Murray, D-New Orleans; Don Cravins, D-Opelousas; and Hollis voted in favor of the bill while Sens. Noble Ellington, D-Winnsboro, and Rob Marionneaux, D-Livonia, voted against it

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