- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014
Harrah’s casino announces it will close in Tunica

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The long decline of what was once the nation’s third-largest casino market was underlined Wednesday when the largest casino in Mississippi’s Tunica County announced it would close.

Caesars Entertainment will shutter its Harrah’s casino in Tunica on June 2, laying off as many as 1,300 workers. Las Vegas-based Caesars has two other casinos in Tunica that will remain open - Horseshoe Tunica and Tunica Roadhouse Hotel and Casino.

Spokesman Gary Thompson said Harrah’s is losing money and the taxes on the property are “onerous.” The company said employees will have preference for openings at those operations and at Caesar’s properties under development in Las Vegas. But it seems unlikely that the other two local casinos, with 1,700 workers, can absorb the number of displaced workers.

“What we do have are a number of loyal players in the market, but not enough to support three properties,” Thompson told The Associated Press.

The announcement lays clear the consequences of a relentless seven-year fall in gambling revenues among the county’s nine casinos. They, along with other Mississippi gambling halls, have been cutting employees and paying less in gambling taxes for years, even as management kept the doors open.

Tunica casinos won $1.16 billion from gamblers in the 12 months ended in September 2006, but that amount fell 38 percent to $723 million in the 12 months ended in September 2013, according to figures from the Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau.


Kentucky agrees to relax school attendance laws

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky public school students won’t have to cancel their summer vacations after state lawmakers agreed to relax school attendance laws following an unusually snowy winter.

House and Senate negotiators agreed Wednesday night to suspend the state law requiring school districts to have 170 days of classes, as long as they have at least 1,062 hours of classroom instruction.

If a school district cannot meet the 1,062-hour threshold after exhausting all other options, including canceling spring break and school holidays, the school year will end on June 6. State Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, said fewer than 10 school districts would fit that category.

“We’re taking out the headache of the days,” Givens said.

Some rural eastern Kentucky school districts have missed more than a month of classes since January as winter storms blanketed the commonwealth with snow and ice, making travel for school buses treacherous.

The agreement allows school districts to lengthen the school day to a maximum of seven hours in order to make up the time. And it allows districts to have class on May 20 - election day - to get in extra hours.


Ky. House OKs trial use of cannabis oil

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky House members voted Wednesday to legalize a medicinal oil derived from marijuana or hemp as an option to combat childhood seizures, then stood and cheered a group of children and their parents who hope to benefit from the new treatment.

“I feel like we’ve won the lottery,” Rita Wooton, whose young son suffers from chronic seizures, told reporters afterward. “I never thought it would happen. We’re going to seek treatment as soon as it’s available in this state.”

The bill, once seemingly a longshot, cleared the House on a 98-0 vote. During the debate, Wooton, her son Eli and others directly affected by the legislation watched from the back of the House chambers. Afterward, they basked in applause and received hugs from some lawmakers.

Wooton said her family was prepared to leave the state to get the treatment for her son in a state where the oil, which is not intoxicating, is legal.

Now, with one more supportive vote from lawmakers and a signature from the governor, they’ll be able to stay in Kentucky to receive the drug.

“We hope this will allow them to stay at home and get it and seek the relief for their children that they deserve,” said Democratic Rep. John Tilley of Hopkinsville, who shepherded the bill through the House.


Kentucky lawmakers wrestle with bridge funding

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - State lawmakers will debate the future of the Brent Spence bridge this week as part of the state’s multi-billion road spending plan.

The 50-year-old, double decker bridge connects Covington with Cincinnati and has become a poster child for the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. It carries more traffic than it is designed to hold and frequently snarls traffic along I-71 and I-75, major corridors connecting the southern United States with the Midwest.

Kentucky owns the bridge and is responsible for its maintenance. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear included $1.7 billion from tolls in his road spending proposal earlier this year. But House and Senate lawmakers removed that money after objections from their northern Kentucky constituents who commute to Cincinnati for work.

The Houses plan is to spend $3.9 billion in state and federal money to repair and replace state roads and bridges. It includes $107 million officials say will come from a 1.5 cents-per-gallon increase in the state gas tax. The Senate plan is $3.6 billion and does not include the gas tax increase.

House lawmakers were hesitant to commit more money to the bridge project given its uncertain future. Their version of the road spending plan includes $22 million in federal money left over from an earmark. The Senate’s plan - approved Wednesday - includes the $22 million plus an additional $37 million in state and federal money to begin acquiring land for the project.

“We have restored the funding to keep the project moving forward. If we don’t, the project will be delayed and who knows what the future would hold,” said Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Prospect and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

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