By Kathleen E. Carey
PHILADELPHIA – Casino executives joined elected officials at the SugarHouse casino Thursday morning to tout the benefits of gaming in Pennsylvania, right on the heels of a state Supreme Court decision that if left unremedied could siphon millions from gaming taxes that have been distributed to host communities.
“This industry has delivered to Pennsylvania and it has delivered to local communities,” Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, said. “Our commitment to these communities has never been stronger.”
The forum was hosted by the AGA as part of its “Get to Know Gaming” national tour to highlight the community benefits from having gaming present.
Thursday’s forum came a day after some Delaware County officials criticized casino operators after a recent state Supreme Court decision ruled that the revenue payments made to counties and municipalities from slot machine revenues were unconstitutional.
The court based its decision on taxation uniformity language after Mount Airy Casino contended the law disproportionately impacted smaller, “boutique” casinos.
After making its decision, the court delayed its effect for 120 days to allow the state legislature to change the law.
Here, Delaware County receives $4.3 million and Chester receives more than $10 million, or almost a quarter of its budget, from slots host revenue.
Freeman said he anticipated that the General Assembly would fix the law before the end of its session.
“We’re confident that the Legislature will address this issue,” he said, adding “That’s not to say that there aren’t policies here in Pennsylvania that need a second look.”
Freeman then spoke in favor of repealing the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 to allow the gaming industry to open the market for professional sports betting.
Attending the forum, state Sen. Larry Farnese, D-1, of Philadelphia, conceded that casinos provide a significant impact on the community, noting the $3 million directed to the Philadelphia School District and the 18,000 individuals employed by the industry in that city.
He said his chamber expects to address the Supreme Court decision.
“I know that myself and the senate leadership team, we are looking very closely at that decision … to remedy that situation,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-7, of Chadds Ford also applauded the thousands of jobs linked to the industry.
“These are family-sustaining jobs,” he said, adding that many of his constituents have two-wage households. “That’s something that makes a difference.”
Meehan added that casinos can also have a ripple impact.
“It’s the ability for these anchors for economic revitalization in challenged areas,” he said, noting Chester. “It creates foot traffic.”
He also spoke of the concern about saturation point as evidenced by the situation in New Jersey.
Freeman said the focus should be on how to expand potential for the industry.
He noted the $6 billion in economic activity that Pennsylvania’s casinos generate, as well as their 34,000 jobs and $2.4 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues and said efforts should be placed to allow for that number to increase more and more, even up to $10 billion annually.
Freeman said the question is, “How do we continue this commitment to these local communities and to the state for years to come?”