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Live entertainment tax leaves Nev. lawmakers dazed

Sandra Chereb, Associated Press

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) -- What is live entertainment? The question may be simple, but when it comes to Nevada tax law, the answer is mind-numbing.

That's what members of the Assembly and Senate tax committees found out Thursday when they were briefed on the revenue source that is projected to bring in about $282 million in the next biennium.

Take for example, outdoor concerts.

Whether they are subject to the tax depends on where they are held and other factors, such as whether admissions go entirely to a nonprofit group.

Outdoor concerts per se are exempt — unless they are held on casino properties. Then the tax, calculated on attendance — and sometimes food, beverage and merchandise sales — applies.

No live entertainment tax was collected on the Electric Daisy Carnival that drew more than 100,000 people for three nights running at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway last summer. It was exempt.

But summer outdoor concerts held in casino resort parking lots aren't entitled to the same waiver.

The complicated tax and myriad exemptions prompted Democratic Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick to ask whether it would be easier and wiser to gut the levy and start from scratch.

"How hard is it just to get rid of all of them and start over?" she asked. "Based on this you can't watch someone do dog tricks in the mall," she said.

"There's no rhyme or reason to explain to folks how this works."

A 10 percent tax rate is applied if the revenue has a minimum occupancy of 200 and a maximum of 7,299. In those instances, the tax is based on admission charges as well as merchandise, food and refreshments sold at the event. For events held at facilities with occupancy of 7,500 or more, the tax rate is 5 percent on admission charges only.

But the list of exemptions is long. There's an exemption for live entertainment at trade shows, or in non-casino facilities with a maximum occupancy of less than 200. Besides outdoor concerts, there's also exemptions for NASCAR races, baseball games, and live entertainment "in a restaurant which is incidental or ambient in nature as long as there is no charge to patrons for the entertainment."

Most of the tax is generated by casinos from everything from lavish productions in showrooms to lounge acts.

Collecting the tax is also complicated. While revenues garnered from casino entertainment are collected by the state Gaming Control Board, taxes from entertainment not held on gambling properties is collected by the Department of Taxation.

The whole system is ripe for overhaul, said Carole Vilardo, executive director of the Nevada Taxpayers Association.

"This is the perfect tax to totally restructure," she told lawmakers.