FUMO TO BACK GAMING BILL THAT PROVIDES LOCAL ZONING
HARRISBURG, October 18, 2006 – The state Senate plans to amend and send back
to the House of Representatives next week legislation that will strengthen the
ethics provisions of state gaming law, and give control of casino zoning matters
to local authorities in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
State Sen. Vince Fumo (D-Philadelphia), who had
originally preferred to vest control over casino zoning with the Pennsylvania
Gaming Control Board, said he would drop his insistence on state preemption of
zoning due to strong community opposition to the concept. City councilmen Frank
DiCicco and James Kenney have worked closely with Fumo in an attempt to address
local concerns about zoning issues.
“Residents of neighborhoods that are near the potential
casino sites have raised some very legitimate concerns about the impact on their
communities,” Fumo said. “I also had legitimate concerns about how local zoning
ordinances might be used unfairly to place unnecessary obstructions in the way
“But because of the strong community opposition, I am
willing to try local control. I will be watching very closely and will ask the
legislature to revisit the issue, however, if local zoning procedures become
simply a tool for delaying or preventing the building of casinos,” Fumo added.
The Senate could vote on the legislation (SB 862) when
it returns to session on Monday.
Fumo, who was one of the main authors of the 2004 law
that legalized 14 slot machine parlors statewide, was always concerned that
NIMBY (Not-In-My-Back-Yard) opponents would use local zoning regulations to
place roadblocks in the way of the two casinos that the law requires to be
licensed in Philadelphia.
He believes that while the state must proceed carefully
with gambling to ensure that it is corruption-free and that it does not
adversely affect nearby neighborhoods, it is also important that slot machine
parlors open for business quickly. The state will apply its share of the slots
revenue to statewide property tax reduction and to Philadelphia wage tax
The city of Philadelphia is also to receive four
percent of the revenue generated by the two casinos within its borders – an
amount that should total approximately $24 million annually. Of that, at Fumo’s
insistence, the school district is to receive $5 million per year under this
legislation. The district will use that money for bond financing to pay for up
to $75 million in school renovations.
“Using gambling revenue to reduce taxes was a key part
of Governor Ed Rendell’s agenda. I want to move forward so that we can begin
cutting the Philadelphia wage tax and provide other benefits to the city and its
schools,” Fumo said.
This will be Fumo’s second attempt within the past
several weeks to balance local concerns with state interests. Earlier this year,
the House had amended Senate Bill 862 to preempt Philadelphia zoning ordinances
completely. Fumo helped craft a bipartisan series of amendments to SB 862 which
restored a degree of control to the city by including a requirement that the
state Gaming Control Board follow many current Philadelphia zoning ordinances
when licensing and regulating casinos. That version passed the Senate on a 50-0
vote on September 27.
Yesterday, the House amended the bill again to remove
the standards set forth in the Senate-passed version and to authorize the state
Gaming Control Board to make all zoning and land-use decisions regarding casinos
in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
The House had also made other detrimental changes,
• Weakening the Senate-backed rules on ex-parte communication by Board members
• Weakening a strict standard for Board members to recuse themselves from
decisions in which they have a conflict of interest;
• Weakening the public input hearing provisions;
• Removing a prohibition on racetracks providing free drinks;
• Removing the anti-monopoly protections against one machine manufacturer having
more than 50 percent of the machines on the floor of any one casino;
• (These and other changes are described in greater detail in the
Next week, the Senate expects to remove the
House-passed language and reinsert the provisions that it had passed on
September 27, with several changes. In addition to restoring zoning control to
local authorities in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the new version of the bill
will reduce the per-machine fee assessed on manufacturers from $500 to $50, and
direct all of the proceeds from those fees to the fund for compulsive gambling
“The new Senate version of the bill will contain
important improvements that strengthens the public integrity provisions of our
gaming law,” Fumo said. “By eliminating the contentious issue of zoning
preemption, I hope we can now get these provisions on the books before the first
casinos open for business.”
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Click here to see the
attachment describing the policy revisions made by the House to SB 862.