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Nye on Nevada, June 19

Casino industry pushes back at IRS reporting proposal

When the Internal Revenue Service floated the idea of lowering the threshold for tax-reportable winnings from slot machines, the reaction from thousands of gamblers was a collective “Give us a break!”

At an IRS public hearing Wednesday in Washington D.C., a handful of casino executives, industry officials and tribal representatives delivered much the same message.

Geoff Freeman, president and chief executive of the American Gaming Association, told a panel of IRS and Treasury Department officials the proposal is “far more complicated, onerous and unproductive” than the government may have understood.

Freeman said the change won’t necessarily bring in a lot more money to the government but it would create a big burden “for everyone involved, including the IRS.”

The IRS has proposed lowering from $1,200 to $600 the amount at which casinos must report winnings for individuals who hit jackpots at slots and bingo, and must supply the winner with a W2-G tax form. The keno threshold presently at $1,500 also could be reduced.

The agency said the change would bring gaming in line with other industries where payments of $600 or more to individuals in a given year triggers a tax reporting requirement and a W2-G.

Utilizing electronic player tracking for tax purposes raises a host of red flags, Freeman said. Not the least of those is that many gamblers would reject the use of player loyalty cards – a key marketing tool for most casinos — if they thought they were being turned into tax collection devices.

“The customer would walk away,” Freeman said in an interview after the hearing. “This would have enormous implications not just for loyalty cards in the casino industry but in the broader hospitality industry – hotels, airlines and others.”

Freeman suggested to federal officials that if anything, electronic player tracking for taxes be made voluntary for casinos and their customers.

Some gamblers might welcome an IRS-accepted accounting of amounts won and lost in calculating their annual tax returns.

Steve Tetreault

State to offer transgender health coverage

State employees and covered family members will have health coverage for gender reassignment and other transgender procedures under a new insurance policy that takes effect July 1.

The Public Employee Benefits Program board voted in November to remove language in the state’s self-funded and HMO plans that specifically excluded therapy for gender dysphoria.

Brock Maylath, president of the advocacy group Transgender Allies Group, on Wednesday hailed the change as a “significant step” for the transgender community.

Previous language in the state insurance design plan excluded treatment designed to alter physical characteristics and any other treatment related to sex transformations.

“We commend the Nevada state PEBP board for making this significant step to ensure that transgender employees have access to lifesaving care,” Maylath said. “Medical treatment should be determined by conversations between a patient and a doctor, rather than on arbitrary exclusions created by an insurance company.”

Jeffery Garofalo, a Las Vegas attorney and PEBP board member, said the policy change is a positive step for Nevada.

“I am grateful that our plan documents … are going to be in line with current and modern thinking and respectful of our society,” Garofalo said.

Transgender is an umbrella term for people born one sex but who identify as the opposite sex. Not all transgender people undergo sex-change operations.

Under the new policy, PEBP will provide insurance coverage for expenses related to medical, surgical or prescription drug treatment for sex change procedures, including expenses for preparation or complications.

Also covered are gender reassignment procedures encompassing mental health, hormone therapy, prescription drug therapy and genital reconstruction surgery.

Sandra Chereb

Governor signs final bills from Legislature

Gov. Brian Sandoval signed the final bills of the 2015 legislative session into law June 12, including a measure creating the “Breakfast After the Bell” program for schoolchildren and another providing $14 million for the construction of a Northern Nevada Veterans Home.

In all, Sandoval signed 549 bills and issued six vetoes from the session that ended June 1.

The bills signed into law last Friday, the deadline for Sandoval to sign or veto measures, include those that are part of a comprehensive effort to create and expand resources for Nevada veterans and their families through enhanced educational, employment and health care services.

Signed last Friday were:

■ Senate Bill 503, which will provide funding to districts for Breakfast After the Bell startup grants totaling $2 million over the biennium. Schools with 70 percent or greater free and reduced-price eligible students will be able to apply for the grants to implement the program providing a meal in the classroom each morning. The measure was largely shepherded through the Legislature by first lady Kathleen Sandoval.

■ Assembly Bill 491, which appropriates over $14 million for construction of the Northern Nevada Veterans Nursing Home.

■ Assembly Bill 241, which expands the work completed by the Women Veterans Advisory Committee as established by a Sandoval executive order.

The bill solidifies the committee in statute and requires it to support the Nevada Department of Veteran Services with locating, educating and advocating for all women veterans, determine the unique needs of women veterans, conduct outreach, promote benefits and superior health care for women veterans, and develop educational programs for pupils, business leaders, and educators about the important role of women veterans.

Sean Whaley

Steve Tetreault covers Washington D.C. for GateHouse Media. Sandra Chereb and Sean Whaley are based in Carson City.

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