Pa. lawmakers divided over gaming bill — and running out of time

Changes to Pennsylvania casino revenue rules could have a big effect on cities including Chester

Changes to Pennsylvania casino revenue rules could have a big effect on cities including Chester

Pennsylvania’s legislature only has a handful of session days left, and members appear to be divided over a top priority — gaming legislation.

Lawmakers are in a time crunch to fix a municipal tax on casinos that the state Supreme Court declared unconstitutional last month. The deadline is late January, and there aren’t many session days between now and then.

However, finding a solution is getting complicated.

Fixing the casino tax means opening up a piece of legislation that — among other things — stipulates how the money is distributed.

Current law allocates some casino funds to the counties where casinos are located.

Many lawmakers see this as a rare opportunity to change that, and potentially route money to their own districts. Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, is one of them.

“This is kind of a battle between the haves and the have-nots,” Diamond said. “The ones who are getting casino funding now and are relying on it, versus those who didn’t get nearly as much as maybe they thought they deserved in the past. This is an opportunity to look at that.”

Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, is also from a district that doesn’t get casino money. But he said redistribution shouldn’t be the priority.

“Sure I would like to see Berks County get some money out of this,” he said. “But that’s not the issue right now. The issue right now is fixing the tax rate.”

Municipalities including Chester City, Bensalem Township and Erie County stand to lose millions in revenue, according to the court ruling.

SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia and small “boutique” casinos, including one in Valley Forge, are governed by a different tax standard and exempt from the ruling.

The Gaming Oversight Committee chair said the divide between lawmakers will make it difficult to pass anything this session.

Late Tuesday, House and Senate leaders were privately deliberating on how to proceed.

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