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Pa. House panel to consider casino revenue fix

The state House Gaming Oversight Committee on Tuesday will hold a public hearing as lawmakers attempt to reverse a court ruling that threatens to choke off tax revenue earmarked for counties and municipalities that host casinos.

The state Supreme Court last month ruled unconstitutional a provision in state law governing taxation of casinos. The ruling impacts money available for local grants through what is called a local share assessment.

Justices essentially said the state gambling law imposes different tax rates on casinos depending on their size, which is a violation of uniformity standards in the state Constitution.

State lawmakers were given 120 days to clarify the issue.

Rep. John Payne (R-Dauphin), chairman of the House committee holding the hearing, said several options are being considered to fix the local share issue, including a more centralized pot of money that would benefit every county, not just the counties with casinos.

“There are more counties that aren’t benefiting from gaming than ones that are,” Payne said.

Gambling at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in East Hanover Township generated about $13.5 million last year for Dauphin County.

The county doles out about half of its annual slot-machine revenue in the form of grants for local projects.

Payne, who is not seeking re-election this year, said he’s not really sure where the issue might go or if it will be addressed in the few legislative session days left this month.

“It could be done in six days or in the next six months,” he said. “The harder part will be getting the votes. We have to work together and compromise.”

If there is no fix to address the Supreme Court ruling by the deadline, counties would be forced to stop collecting revenue from casinos, Payne said. The issue could be picked up in 2017, but the delay could push back the annual distribution of local gaming grants.

Dauphin County releases those funds over the winter. County officials were not immediately available for comment on the prospect of a 2017 delay.

If local grants were to dry up, property tax increases would be a possibility for municipalities that host casinos across the state, according to multiple reports.

“Without this money, important projects and equipment purchases would either have been put on hold or, in some cases, force local officials to increase property taxes to cover the cost,” Amy Richards Harinath, a spokeswoman for the Dauphin County commissioners, said following the Supreme Court ruling.

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