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Gaming reaps $2.7 million in taxes for Pa. every day

June 22, 2008

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, veterans and social clubs in Franklin County.

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.

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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.

Now, the gaming board is getting blamed for it, there's no doubt. But I can tell you that none of the dollars produced by gaming is going to shut down clubs in Franklin County or any other county in Pennsylvania unless they would be operating illegal slot machines. If they're not doing that and they're getting busted, it's because they're getting busted for things like they are only allowed to give jackpots away at a certain level and when they go over that, or if minors are involved or if they have a game that they shouldn't. That's being policed by the LCE, liquor code enforcement agencies, who are a division of the Liquor Control Board and Pennsylvania State Police who work together. Those funds going toward that have nothing to do with gaming.

When I was in the legislature from 1983 to 2004, this subject came up back then, way before we had slot machines and gaming in Pennsylvania. Clubs were getting busted because they had illegal jackpots or they had illegal games or they had minors or whatever. They were busted a long time before a casino was ever open or licensed in Pennsylvania, and that's still happening today.

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