11/22/2002 12:00AM

All in all, good news for gaming


The national elections on Nov. 5, produced a "good news, bad news" result for Nevada's gaming industry.

Pro-gaming victories in Iowa and Tennessee were tempered by the Republicans regaining control of Capitol Hill.

That means Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., plans to return as chairman of the influential Senate Commerce Committee, a perch from which he pushed a failed college sports betting ban in 2000 and 2001. McCain is joined in his support of legislation that would stop all legal wagering on college athletic events by South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham.

Meanwhile, it is still not known whether a Republican-controlled Senate will act on the Internet gambling bill that passed the House in September. Senator Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., has said that before the end of the year he plans to attach his House bill to legislation that is pending in the Senate.

The Nevada casino industry is not actively supporting the bill.

Pro gambling election returns

In Iowa, voters allowed riverboat casinos to continue to exist - a vote on the issue is to be conducted every eight years - and that was a significant win for gaming. With their vote, Iowans rejected the anti-gaming case that social costs outweigh the financial benefits of gaming.

In Tennessee, voters passed a referendum that will delete a constitutional prohibition on lotteries, which will lay the groundwork for state-run games. Pro-gaming initiatives were also passed in Arizona, Idaho, and North Carolina.

Pro-gaming governors were elected in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma, while California, New York, and Nevada reelected their gaming-friendly governors.

States collectively face a shortfall of over $17 billion this year and a projected collective deficit of $40 billion for fiscal 2003. Many states are revisiting the revenues that gaming can supply.

Massachusetts officials have commissioned a task force to study gaming within its state, citing the governor's anti-tax promises and encroachment of casinos in neighboring states. Reelected Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hedged on his opposition to gaming as a way to raise money for education when he said, "I am opposed to gambling, but I'm also opposed to raising taxes."

The gaming-related victories in so many states bode well for Nevada and its gaming companies.

Casino companies are looking forward to the prospect of expanding to other states, which, they believe, become substantial feeder markets for Las Vegas. Gaming expansion creates more business for Nevada's gaming equipment manufacturers, such as International Game Technology, Alliance Gaming Corporation, and WMS Industries.

Looking ahead, industry analysts believe that Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, and Pennsylvania are the states that are most likely to expand gambling within the next 18 months.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.