Airport slots bill to aid Saints OK'd
Airport slots bill to aid Saints OK'd
Paddle-wheeler gambling also passes committee
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
By Ed Anderson
BATON ROUGE -- The Senate Judiciary B Committee ignored the opposition of Gov. Kathleen Blanco on Tuesday and approved a bill to legalize slot machine gambling at Louis Armstrong International Airport, with the revenue generated earmarked to help meet the state's obligations to the New Orleans Saints, and another bill authorizing gambling aboard paddle-wheelers on the Mississippi River.
Initially, House Bill 799 by Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, allowing slot machines in the airport was killed 4-3. But about 45 minutes after its apparent death, Sens. Charles Jones, D-Monroe, and Ken Hollis, R-Metairie, called for a revote and the bill passed 4-2. It now heads to the Senate floor for debate.
Earlier in the meeting, the panel sent to the Senate floor HB 114 by Rep. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, allowing the American Queen in New Orleans to have gambling on its cruises "as an amenity." Existing law allows gambling on the 15 docked riverboats licensed by the state and on foreign-flagged vessels that cruise to or from the Port of New Orleans for foreign ports, but not on U.S. vessels cruising the Mississippi.
Blanco's executive counsel, Terry Ryder, said the governor opposes the bills because they expand gambling in the state.
Asked whether she would veto the bills, Blanco said, "I'm willing to hope that they don't come to my desk."
Reversal during revote
The reversal on Richmond's bill came when Hollis switched his vote and gambling opponent Sen. Jay Dardenne, R-Baton Rouge was absent for the revote.
Richmond says the slots will pay for the $15 million annual obligation to the Saints without imposing more taxes on the New Orleans tourism industry. Richmond said that money should be put toward other needs in the city.
Saying the Saints are not "among my top three priorities," Richmond cited fighting crime and improving the economic and educational climate of New Orleans as his higher priorities.
Hollis said he voted against the bill at first to send Richmond a message that the Saints are important to the state and New Orleans area, and that the $15 million obligation due July 5 this year and next must be met. The obligation increases through 2011, when the contract expires.
The state is expected to be about $9.5 million short this year. The bill would not help the shortage this year but could help it meet its obligations next year.
"The bill will let the people of Jefferson Parish decide," Hollis said of the provision requiring a popular vote in the parish before slot machines can be installed at the airport. "The entire Jefferson delegation supported the bill in the House."
Joining Hollis in voting to kill the bill at first were Dardenne and Sens. Noble Ellington, D-Winnsboro, and Rob Marionneaux, D-Livonia, the panel's chairman, who broke a 3-3 tie. Voting against the request to kill it were Sens. Edwin Murray, D-New Orleans, Donald Cravins, D-Arnaudville, and Jones.
On the revote Hollis joined Murray, Jones and Cravins in voting for it; Dardenne was absent and Marionneaux and Ellington voted against it.
As the bill heads to the Senate floor, it authorizes slots to be placed on each of the four concourses at the airport in enclosed rooms. Although Richmond did not give a revenue projection, he said the tax on the machines would be 21.5 percent.
Richmond said any money collected in excess of what is needed to pay the Saints would be divided as follows:
-- One-sixth to Jefferson Parish and one-sixth to Kenner.
-- One-third to the airport to help lower landing fees.
-- One-third to the city of New Orleans to give New Orleans police a pay raise. He amended that portion Tuesday to also include pay raises for firefighters.
Richmond initially proposed splitting all the slot revenue this way. The bill, though, was amended by Martiny in the House as away to finance the state shortfall to the Saints.
But Martiny said he would "be very surprised if they could raise $8 million to $10 million (from the slots). I don't know if it will be the bonanza it is thought to be."
'A little more gambling'
Martiny earlier won approval for his bill to legalize riverboat gambling aboard paddle-wheelers, which he said is designed to help the bottom line of the American Queen in competing against foreign-flagged ships that are allowed to gamble. The ship sails to Baton Rouge, St. Francisville and other ports on the river.
The bill requires the vessel to have no more than 110 gambling positions, about 1 percent to 3 percent of the ship's floor area; to be on at least a 48-hour cruise; and to be able to sleep 400 passengers. The gambling tables must close when the ship docks.
Martiny said the 18.5 percent tax on gambling revenue would generate about $500,000. He said 7.5 percent of the revenue would go to the state, 7.5 percent would be funneled to the parishes where the vessel travels, and 3 .5 percent would go to State Police to monitor gambling activities.
Of the 7.5 percent geared to local government, New Orleans would get 25 percent and the other parishes would get the rest.
"There is no question this is a little more gambling, but I wouldn't call it an expansion of gambling," Martiny said.
Ryder asked the panel to kill both bills, especially the airport slots bill. Of Richmond's bill, Ryder said, "This is an expansion of gambling. The governor's position has been consistent in opposing the expansion of gambling."
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