In late September, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided to rule that host fees paid by the casinos statewide should be removed. This decision has scared local governments as the counties and municipalities rely on the monies provided by the casinos to function. The Erie County Council is one local government that is urging the state legislature to quickly repair the gaming law of the state so gambling revenues can once again be provided by casinos.
The meeting agenda for today within the council is urging legislators of the state to fix the local shared gaming funds language immediately. Erie County receives close to $11 million in slot machines revenues each year from the Presque Isle Downs & Casino based on the law. $5.5 million is kept by the county. The money is used to provide grants for local agencies, pay on the county’s long-term debt and fund libraries in the area.
The remaining $5.5 million is used by the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority as they see fit. The group invests the funds into grants and loans for projects of economic or community development in the local area. The general fund budget proposal for the county includes the $5.5 million in slots revenue that the county has relied on in the past.
Across the state of Pennsylvania, counties and municipalities have relied on gambling funds and are concerned about such revenue streams in the future. Legislators of the state now have 120 days to change the gaming law due to the affect it will have on the municipalities. The Supreme Court has ruled this time frame and legislators must adhere to the deadline.
Kyle Foust is a councilman in Erie County who sponsored the resolution who stated that the council are urging lawmakers to begin work immediately due to the fact that the county and other communities rely on the yearly gaming revenues. Foust stated that obviously there are major financial implications for the budget of the county due to the Supreme Court’s decision. A big hole would be made in the budget but also long-term effects would take place. Gaming money has allowed the country to do important projects in the area that would not have been possible otherwise.
The gaming law began in the state back in 2004 and mandated that host municipalities and counties would receive 2% annually of gross slot machine revenues or an amount of $10 million, whichever amount was greater. Mount Airy Casino filed a lawsuit that argued the assessment of taxes is in violation of the state constitution as a heavier tax burden is set on casinos that do not perform as well as others.
The Eric County Council has sent a copy of the resolution to local legislators including Governor Tom Wolf. State Representative Patrick Harkins has stated that he is confident that the issue will be addressed quickly due to the effect on local communities and it will be a top priority.