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Pa. gaming officials discuss progress

June 21, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

Editor's note: Jeff Coy, of Shippensburg, Pa., left an 11-term career in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to fulfill an appointment on the newly created Pennsylvania Gaming Board in 2004. Since then, the board has overseen the development and opening of the state's first seven slots facilities. A total of 14 licenses went up for grabs through the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act, otherwise known as Act 71 of 2004.

Herald-Mail reporter Jennifer Fitch recently sat down with Coy and Doug Harbach, a Chambersburg, Pa., resident and communications director for the Pennsylvania Gaming Board. The pair addressed several issues, including table games, casino locations and the penalties recently imposed on many fraternal and veterans clubs in Franklin County.

Bringing casinos online



Coy: Other states have taken more than two years after enactment of the legislation to get things rolling. We got it done in about 22 months from the time the law was signed, it took effect and the board got in place. I think we did it with a good degree of professionalism and professional investigations.

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I think the remarkable thing is that we were able to get it done and get the first casino up and running, which was Mohegan Sun outside of Wilkes-Barre. They were a very good company. Mohegan Sun is run by The Tribe, which (has a casino) in Connecticut. They were a good company and knew what they were doing. You can tell in this industry the companies that have had experience. In other words, they seem to have less problems getting started than the companies who don't have as much experience. All in all, the big thing we did was get this thing rolling in less than two years.

Property tax relief



Coy: Now, property tax rebates are starting to flow and people are getting them. More are going to senior citizens and people who are on fixed incomes who are senior citizens. Eventually they'll make their way down to other folks and they'll be getting rebates on their school property taxes. The sooner we get the other casinos up and running -- so we get to the total of 14, seven at racetracks and seven not at racetracks -- these property tax rebates will certainly increase.

I think property tax relief is going to go up. To talk about jobs for a minute, what we've been able to determine so far is that more than 6,500 persons, 95 percent of them Pennsylvania residents, are now employed in the new positions created by the casino industry. That's a pretty significant amount, and we expect to see some additional facilities come online and that figure will swell to about 15,000 jobs statewide. In addition, with the construction of the casinos, about 24,000 construction jobs are going to be included. These are big jobs that are very, very (good) jobs with carpenters, roofers, masons, electricians, jointers and everything that's involved in construction. Most of these places are built pretty good, too. They're not built with plywood.

Harbach: There are two different programs that gaming funds belong to. One is the rebate program, which was more than doubled, and that's for the seniors. They injected gaming funds into that to increase the program so that those previously eligible at $15,000 are now eligible up to $35,000 a year. Program 2, which is general property tax relief, is what was just authorized by the budget secretary. That will grow as more money goes into the gaming fund. It's not as much a rebate on that one as it is a reduction.

May was actually the highest month they had (in gaming revenues).

There were no revenues coming in a couple years ago from gaming because we didn't have it. Today there's $2.7 million a day of new taxes coming into the commonwealth. Some of these facilities are temporary facilities and don't even have all their slots machines. We're not even half way to the 14, and we're getting $2.7 million a day in taxes that would've gone out of the state.

Club closures



Coy: I guess I want to be really, really exact on this, so that readers can understand. The dollars that are earmarked in the gaming act are for grants that go to law enforcement agencies like police departments, district attorneys, whoever applies to us. The sole purpose of them is to cut down on and enforce illegal slot machines. It's not for targeting these veterans and social clubs that have fish bowls or the scratch tickets or fish-bowl type tickets.

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