Today, members of the Pennsylvania House voted in approval for a measure that will repair a state gaming law that was recently ruled unconstitutional involving the amount of casino taxes paid to municipalities as well as legalizing online gambling and fantasy sports wagering. The bill must now be considered by the Senate, which should take place in November.
The House voted 144 to 38 in favor of a bill that will provide a permanent fix to the recent ruling by the state Supreme Court involving casino host fees. $142 million is given to local municipalities each year via casino operators by way of gaming revenue tax, money that had been stripped away as the court ruled the law was unconstitutional and had to be changed. The bill will also allow the state to offer online gambling and fantasy sports contests, something that has been in the works for some time. The bill will now move on to the Senate, though voting may not take place until next month when senators are back in session on the 15th.
There was a great need for the bill to be createad as the subject of the recent ruling by the state Supreme Court had to be addressed. Lawmakers had only 120 days to make the changes to legislation in regards to gambling tax based on the decision. The ruling involved a law from 2004 in which casinos had to pay as much as $10 million to local municipalities and counties that hosted the venues.
Before the ruling was made, casinos had to pay 2% of their slot machine revenues or $10 million in flat fees, whichever amount was higher. The fee was always paid by gaming venues because the slot amount was never high enough. Casinos argued this fee was unfair, with Mount Airy Casino even filing suit, as smaller casinos were paying a higher tax rate than larger gambling facilities. The court agreed and made the ruling for changes to take place.
The new bill would need to be signed into law or officials in local cities and counties may have to take other measures to secure budget funds, which normally would come from fees, including borrowing money, cutting services or raising taxes.
The Pennsylvania Senate has been opposed to gambling in the past, so there is no guarantee that the measure will be approved. Senator Pat Browne is the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee who stated that there is no guarantee that the bill, which is loaded with gambling expansions, will pass the Senate. Browne stated that he was hoping the House would pass the host fee fix without any additional changes.
Browne also commented that the Senate will be back in a few weeks to look at the bill but it has not been decided as to if a vote will take place. The Senator stated that the lawmakers know the host fee has to keep going and that is why an amendment was drafted so quickly, however, not everyone wants to see a gambling expansion take place.
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