Taxpayers may have to pay up if gambling law isn’t fixed

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Legalized gambling has paid off for several Pennsylvania communities that receive a percentage of the profits.

That is, until now.

Several counties and municipalities statewide could be facing a multi-million dollar budget crisis if a decision isn't reached soon on taxing Pennsulvania gaming operations.

The state Supreme Court ruled the way casinos are taxed varies from one business to the next and is therefore, unfair.

When the state passed legalized gaming in 2004, there was a provision that gaming operations outside of Philadelphia would pay a percentage of revenue to the local municipality and county.

Those funds could dry up if the General Assembly doesn't fix issues with the law.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court court ruling on making tax rates more uniform for gaming operations has both winners and losers.

Pennsylvania state representative Sue Helm (R-104th District) said "the casinos outside of philadelphia, are taxed differently than the ones inside philadelphia, so the courts are coming to tell us we have to be more fair with the way we distribute the money."

Pennsylvania state representative John Helm (R-106th District) said "it was challenged in court by one of the casinos, joined by a few others, but originally one, and the supreme ruled that it's correct, it was not fair taxation, so we have to come up with a new formula, on how we tax the casinos."

County and municipal officials throughout Pennsylvania are hedging their bets that the General Assembly fixes the law before this year's legislative session ends.

"I think everybody that you heard throughout Pennsylvania today is worried about their local share. The problem is, the counties who aren't getting any money, see a window of opportunity here, if we're going to do a fix, let's not do a fix for those who are getting, let's do a fix for those who aren't getting anything," Payne said.

"Hopefully we're going to get this bill passed in the house and the senate, in the next five days we're in session, because that's important, if we don't, our fire companies are going to be hurting, and it's our responsibility to protect the people of our district and we plan to do that." Helm said.

It's an all or nothing chance for tax dollars that most state legislators are not willing to take.

"I think it's $142 million that come from the casinos, and we need to distribute that money fairly," Helm said.

"Supreme court ruled, you have to stop collecting, you have 120 days to fix this or you have to stop," Payne said.

Many local leaders who spoke at the Gaming Oversight committee are counting on gaming tax dollars to help balance their budgets.

Without it, many taxpayers could be forced to ante up to make up for the shortfall if those funds run out.