PA Court Reverses State Rule Limiting Casino-Related Political Donations

Posted on September 25, 2018

It’s open season for political donations.

This past week, a federal judge reversed a ban written into Pennsylvania’s original gambling legislation in which anyone with ties to the PA gambling industry was not allowed to make monetary donations to political campaigns or causes.

According to The Inquirer, District Court Judge Sylvia H. Rambo said the original law against contributions was well-intentioned. Nonetheless, it overstepped its bounds. From Rambo’s decision:

“The stated purpose of the law is legitimate and commendable to the extent it seeks to prohibit corruption or the appearance of corruption, yet a laudable purpose is not dispositive as to the law’s constitutionality.”

Casino lawsuit launched in Dec. 2017

The initial lawsuit against that state’s restriction on who can make political donations emerged in Dec. 2017.

According to an article from Morning Call, the parties in the lawsuit were:

  • Plaintiffs: Pasquale “Pat” Deon, Sr.; Maggie Hardy Mageko
  • Defendants: Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro

The original documents in the lawsuit revealed the specific claim against the state’s rules for political contributions:

“Pennsylvania can neither demonstrate nor even plausibly assert that contributions create the reality or appearance of corruption, when it authorizes unlimited contributions outside the gaming industry. It is implausible to suggest that even a small contribution from a person affiliated with the gaming industry would create the reality or appearance of corruption.”

In other words, just because a donor is working for or with the PA gambling industry doesn’t mean their actions are the genesis or continuation of corruption.

Plaintiffs are power players in PA casino scene

The two plaintiffs in the case, Pat Deon and Maggie Magerko, are big names in the PA Lottery scene.

Deon is a well-connected personality in PA casino and political circles, according to the Morning Call, and holds the following titles:

  • PA turnpike commissioner
  • Chairman of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority
  • Stakeholder in Sands Bethlehem
  • Founder, Pat Deon Beverages

Magerko is a billionaire, owner of 84 Lumber and the president of Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.

Her Nemacolin profile portrays her as a spirited business leader with a proven track record:

“Maggie’s energetic approach and aggressive goals have been critical success factors in 84 Lumber’s operation and growth. Under Maggie’s leadership, 84 Lumber refocused concentration on its original niche – the professional market – helping the company top $1 billion in sales for the first time in 1994 and $2 billion in 2004.”

Impact of ruling still unclear

It’s impossible to forecast how the district court’s decision will affect the Pennsylvania political landscape.

However, as it pertains to the casino industry, there are some theories.

One practical way this could play out is that casino executives and stakeholders like Deon and Magerko could financially support candidates who will attempt to lower the state’s gambling taxes, thus providing a bit of relief to the nation’s highest slot machine and sports betting tax rates. Given the role taxes and fees are playing in gambling expansion, this could have major ramifications.

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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren is a freelance writer and author, and has won the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism award three times. He contributes to numerous publications, including Snooth, the Villages Daily Sun, Bespoke Post, and Barcelona Metropolitan.

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