PA Senator Wants State Reopened, Property Tax Relief From Sports Gambling

Posted on April 20, 2020

A state senator from south-central Pennsylvania wants sports gambling revenue shifted to helping pay property taxes in light of economic issues created by the state-ordered virus shutdowns. Taxes from sports gambling are currently allocated to the general fund.

Sen. Doug Mastriano has introduced Senate Bill 1117, which would temporarily make the change.

Prospects for sports gambling revenue proposal remain unclear

His proposal was referred to the committee that generally oversees gambling, and he is seeking co-sponsors. No one is listed yet as a co-sponsor, and the bill has no date for a hearing.

There’s also no companion legislation currently before the PA House of Representatives.

The senator posted on his website:

“Pennsylvania homeowners already face high property taxes, and the COVID-19 pandemic will only worsen that reality. With a mandated shutdown of businesses that are not ‘life-sustaining,’ many Pennsylvania families find themselves out of work with no income, and have voiced concern about paying their property taxes.

“It is imperative that we help our citizens now during their greatest time of need, and temporarily re-allocate sports betting revenue toward property tax relief.”

It’s not the first proposal for directing sports betting revenue to property tax relief. A Democrat who is a member of the PA House, Rep. Tina M. Davis, introduced a bill in January 2019, likewise looking to make sports revenue help pay property taxes.

Her bill, which had many co-sponsors, never went beyond committee.

Sports gambling revenue intended for property tax relief

Mastriano is a retired Army colonel who served for three decades and has taught at the US Army War College in Carlisle. He represents Adams County, most of Franklin County, and parts of Cumberland and York counties.

The Republican senator acknowledged revenue is low now because sports and sports betting are limited due to virus restrictions, but added that should turn around. The senator also said the original intent of gaming legislation back in 2004 was for property tax relief, not funding state government operations.

The senator is also pushing a resolution — that has no legal force — to prod the governor into consulting more with the legislature first before acting on emergency actions.

He has also pushed legislation that would allow businesses to reopen in PA if they followed guidelines from the CDC. Today he was an organizer at the “ReOpen PA” rally in Harrisburg (pictured above). The York Dispatch website quoted him as saying about the state’s governor:

“Every business, every job is essential. It’s nice for a rich kid to tell us that, but for those of us who have worked for a living, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Gaming revenue reduced by virus restrictions

March was a bad month for sports betting following months of increasing revenues. Sports wagering handle for March was $131.3 million, an enormous 60% drop from $329 million in February.

The tax rate of 36% on sports betting in PA is high compared to most other states with legal sports wagering. Of that, 34% goes to the state, with 2% is reserved for local share assessment.

In March, online and retail sports betting brought in more than $2.3 million for the state. That money, moving forward, would go to property tax relief if Mastriano has his way.

Gov. Tom Wolf has cautiously begun speaking of re-opening parts of the state’s economy. Of course, he has no control over the resumption of sports and the related wagering which would follow.

The state’s 12 land-based casinos all closed in mid-March due to virus restrictions, along with the associated horse racing tracks.

As long as these venues remain shuttered, it will mean less revenue for the state, whether it is going to the general fund or toward property tax relief.

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Kevin Shelly

Kevin C. Shelly is an award-winning career journalist who has spent most of his career in South Jersey. He's the former assistant city editor of The Press of Atlantic City, where he covered the casino industry and Atlantic City government as a reporter. He was also an investigative, narrative enterprise, and features reporter for Gannett’s Courier-Post.

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