We cannot allow gaming expansion to dilute or diminish proceeds used for property-tax relief.
When slots gaming legislation was enacted, I supported it because of its promised a tax break for homeowners. Every year, casinos produce more than $600 million for property-tax relief from slots revenue — $5.5 billion since 2008.
Gaming has been a success story. It has stoked tourism, spurred economic activity throughout our state, helped Pennsylvania's agricultural industry, created good jobs, funded key local economic development projects, and generated billions in revenue for property-tax relief.
Following a vote in the state House last week, gaming expansion appears inevitable. While most people are OK with expansion, I have serious reservations about how this legislation will diminish dollars dedicated to property-tax relief.
For example, the House's proposal permits existing casinos to have secondary sites where the funds generated from those slot machines go to the general fund, not the property-tax relief fund. So, a player choosing to visit one of these new locations, as opposed to an existing one, is syphoning money away from property-tax relief. This is silly.
Property-tax relief must remain the cornerstone of any change to the state's gaming law. In my view, far too many gaming dollars are already dedicated for other uses. We should be looking for ways to put more dollars into the property-tax relief, not less. At the very least, we should stand up for homeowners and protect the revenue that is already devoted to property-tax relief. Our homeowners deserve no less.
The Senate version of gaming expansion would not put the property-tax relief fund in jeopardy. Although none of the dollars in the Senate's expanded gaming bill were earmarked for property-tax relief, the impact on existing casino revenues through expanded internet gaming would not be that significant. This is because the proposal would largely preserve the existing tax structure — and have minimal impact on existing slot machine proceeds.
With the House legislation now coming to the Senate for consideration, I will strive to protect property-tax relief dollars generated through expanded gaming. After all, it was one of the main goals for legalizing gaming from the outset.