Horry to tax casino boats

Myrtle Beach — Horry County Council has decided it would rather tax casino boats than ban them.

Council members voted Tuesday to take advantage of a new state law that lets counties charge as much as 10 percent of a casino boat’s boarding fees and 5 percent of gross proceeds. Counties also could choose to ban the boats after a five-year grace period.

Greg Karan, executive director of boat operator SunCruz Casinos, said his company is willing to pay USD 3 per passenger in boarding fees — not the USD 7 the county wants.

But Karan said the county has no right to tax SunCruz’s gaming proceeds. Karan says the state can’t tax wagers made outside its jurisdiction, especially if those wagers would be illegal in the state.

„I am not willing to take a penny less than the governor said we could get,“ said Councilman Harold Worley, whose district includes Little River. „Let’s take that money and put it in the public safety division so we can hire some additional police officers for Horry County.“

The county’s two boat operators, SunCruz and Southern Elegance, estimate they have about 270,000 passengers a year, with each passenger spending about USD 120.

„We feel you keep hurting tourism and locals when you constantly keep asking them to pay more,“ Karan said.

The boats are charged a 10.5 percent tax on equipment and furniture. Karan says that’s about USD 250,000 a year for his company. Each boat also pays a 2 percent tax on drinks and food, and must buy a business license, which is about USD 25.

Councilman Mark Lazarus said a fee on gambling boats would be similar to an admissions tax at amusement parks, and the money could be used to improve parking for Little River businesses and the hundreds of thousands of gambling boat visitors each year.

„Personally, I don’t have a big problem,“ Lazarus said. „But if they are going to be here, they are going to have to pay.“