Bipartisan legislation to make significant reforms to the law governing casinos in Pennsylvania was unanimously approved today by the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee, said Senator Jane Earll (R-49), the committee’s chairwoman.
Senate Bill 711 would make numerous changes to the law regulating casinos in Pennsylvania. It would reestablish the prohibition on political campaign contributions by individuals and entities subject to the Gaming Act, bar outside employment by members of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB), and extend the ban on felons receiving gaming licenses.
“Many criticisms of the existing gaming law have been justified,” said Senator Earll, the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 711. “These reforms will go a long way toward giving the public confidence that the gaming industry in Pennsylvania is being thoroughly and efficiently regulated in a transparent manner.”
“Developing this comprehensive legislation required a great deal of bipartisan work,” said Senate Democratic Leader Bob Mellow (D-22), the lead cosponsor of the 51-page bill. “These important reforms should be enacted as quickly as possible.”
A number of senators from both parties were directly involved in the process of writing Senate Bill 711, including Senate Majority Whip Jane Orie (R-40), Senator Tommy Tomlinson (R-6), Senator John Rafferty (R-44), Senator Kim Ward (R-39), Senator Jay Costa (D-43), Senator Wayne Fontana (D-42), and Senator Larry Farnese (D-1).
“This has been a long and arduous process that has led to a bipartisan effort to restore public trust,” said Senator Orie.
Senator Fontana, who serves as Democratic chairman of the committee, said, “With the growth of this promising industry and its potential to provide even greater property tax relief in the years ahead, I am confident these rational reforms will help ensure the integrity of the state’s gaming industry.”
“When we created the original slots bill, a great many of the issues addressed today were unexpected or required legislative clarification,” said Senator Tomlinson. “This legislation strengthens the law and ensures a strong regulatory environment.”
Senator Rafferty said, “It’s been a pleasure working with Senators Earll and Orie and other members of the Senate to address some of the much-needed gaming reforms which will bring more transparency to the gaming industry in Pennsylvania.”
Senator Costa called the legislation “a good and comprehensive step toward assuring citizens that the state’s Gaming Board is operating with the citizens’ best interests at heart.”
Senator Ward said, “Overall, this bill forces the Gaming Board to be much more responsive with how they spend the gaming revenues that are intended to provide property tax relief.”
Senator Farnese said he is pleased that the legislation incorporates his proposal requiring the Gaming Board to hold public hearings if a casino seeks to redesign or relocate its facility. “A gaming facility can have a huge impact on its host communities,” he said. “The public deserves the right to be informed and have a voice in decisions that would have a lasting and indelible imprint on their neighborhoods.”
Major provisions in Senate Bill 711 include:
- Campaign Contributions: Reestablishing the prohibition on political campaign contributions by individuals and entities subject to the Gaming Act.
- PGCB Member Outside Employment: Prohibiting future board members from having any outside employment.
- Felony Ban Expansion: Expanding the automatic felony ban provisions of the Act to include a lifetime ban on applicants with a felony conviction who seek a principal or key employee license. For all other license or permit applications, the existing automatic 15-year ban remains in place.
- Former PGCB Employee Prohibitions: Prohibiting employees of the PGCB, including attorneys, from being employed by any regulated entity for a period of two years after leaving the PGCB.
- Budget Impasse: Clarifying that gaming-related employees of the PGCB, the Department of Revenue, the Pennsylvania State Police, and the Attorney General would not be subject to furlough in the event of a budget impasse.
- Subpoena and Immunity Powers: Strengthening the PGCB’s subpoena powers and conferring immunity powers to the PGCB, if the board first adopts a resolution recommending immunity and the Attorney General approves in writing.
- Public Disclosure: Requiring the PGCB to post on its web site information related to individuals with a controlling interest or ownership interest in any licensed entity and any license applicant.
- Ex Parte Communications: Strengthening the Code of Conduct for the PGCB, including stronger prohibitions on ex parte communications.
- PGCB Reimbursement Limitations: Limiting reimbursement for PGCB members and employees to actual and reasonable expenses, and requiring receipts to be submitted for any reimbursement over $10.
- PGCB Monthly/Annual Expense Reports: Requiring monthly and annual reporting of PGCB expenses on the board’s web site.
- Public Input Hearing: Requiring a public input hearing for any petition regarding the structural redesign of a licensed facility in a city of the first class.
- Confidential Information: Clarifying confidentiality provisions by establishing and identifying specific categories of confidential information.
- Facility Relocation: Enhancing provisions related to the relocation of a licensed slot machine facility, including specific evaluation criteria and a requirement that the board hold at least one public input hearing in the municipality where the licensed facility may be located.
- Prohibition on Use of Commonwealth Funds Relocation: Prohibiting any grants or loans from the Commonwealth for the purpose of relocating a licensed slot machine facility.
- Trustee Appointment: Adding a new section specifically providing for the appointment of a trustee under certain conditions.
- Local Law Enforcement Grants: Expanding the authorized use of local law enforcement grants to include all forms of unlawful gambling. The total amount of grants available in this section is reduced from $5 million to $3 million annually, with the $2 million difference going into the Property Tax Relief Fund.
Senate Bill 711 now moves to the full Senate for consideration. Before a final vote is taken, it will be referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee for a fiscal note.