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Virus aid, no new taxes top US gambling industry 2021 goals

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

In this July 2, 2020 photo, a woman plays a slot machine at the Golden Nugget casino in Atlantic City N.J. Gambling companies in the U.S. are increasingly bringing different forms of gambling together, including sports betting, casino gambling, internet gambling and daily fantasy sports, and partnering with media companies as they seek to increase revenue. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – The U.S. gambling industry wants additional financial aid from the next round of coronavirus stimulus legislation, and promises to fight new or higher taxes on its operations as it works to recover from the pandemic.

Bill Miller, president of the American Gaming Association, the gambling industry's national trade group, said Thursday the industry also wants temporary liability protections as it continues to reopen amid the virus outbreak, and would like to see federal stimulus of tourism, including meetings and conventions.

In an online speech outlining the industry's goals for 2021, Miller predicted the gambling industry's fortunes will improve this year, particularly in the second half, as more people become immunized and economic activity picks up.

“I believe there’s huge pent-up demand for gaming,” he said. “People will be excited to travel as vaccines roll out, hungry for entertainment, desperate to escape from their homes and just have fun again. That’s an environment where gaming will thrive.”

Like most other industries, the gambling industry was hit hard by the pandemic. In New Jersey, for example, the nine Atlantic City casinos were closed for 3 1/2 months, and when they reopened in July, they could only do so at 25% of capacity, a restriction that remains in place.

Its casinos won almost 44% less from gamblers than they had in 2019, although additional money from internet and sports betting operations helped reduce the total annual decline to less than 20%.

Last year, for the first time, the U.S. gambling industry was included in a federal relief package. Miller said his group will fight to make sure it also is included in President Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion virus aid package.

“We are fighting to save gaming jobs,” he said. “We will pursue new tax policies that support gaming companies who keep employees on the payroll, and rehire laid-off workers.”

Miller also said the group plans to develop new gambling supporters in Congress and elsewhere; Thursday morning he sent a letter to the Biden Administration and every member of Congress highlighting the jobs and economic activity that casinos create in local communities.

He said the gambling industry paid over $10 million in state taxes in 2019, and opposes efforts to increase them this year, even as states grapple with large budget deficits related to the pandemic.

Total U.S. casino revenue for 2020 is still being calculated. But those revenues were down 31% year-over-year as of November.

“We went through January and February with record numbers — and then we fell off a cliff” due to virus-related shutdowns, Miller said.

But Miller said U.S. sports betting will have surpassed $21 billion in wagers last year, leading to $210 million in state and local tax revenue. Michigan and Virginia began taking bets last week, part of the 25 states plus Washington, D.C. that have legalized sports betting.

Internet gambling, while available in only four states, generated nearly $1.4 billion in revenue and $340 million in taxes over the first 11 months of 2020.

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Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC.