Delaware Governor John Carney has agreed that discussions about the proposed casino tax relief reform should not be delayed any longer. At a Wednesday meeting of the Senate Finance Committee, Secretary of Finance Richard Geisenberger said that negotiations should start immediately.
According to supporters of the proposed bill, a cut in casino taxes is a long-needed step in ensuring that the state’s three casinos can stay competitive instead of ending the year in a loss. Governor John Carney, however, is seen as one of the main opponents of the bill in question, Senate Bill 144. Yet, at the Senate Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday, Secretary of Finance Richard Geisenberger spoke on his behalf when explaining that the casino tax reform has been put on hold for too long.
He said that the prolonged negotiations have been going on since Gov. Carney took office and indeed, this is the third time legislators have tried to cut the taxes casinos in the state have to pay. Geisenberger admitted that last year’s problems with the state budget have made the reform less attractive to discuss but assured the committee that the Governor is committed to finding a solution and keep the good partnership between the state and casino operators.
As per the current Delaware taxation rules, casinos pay a 43 per cent of their slot machine revenue and 20 per cent of the table games revenue as taxes, along with an annual table games licensing fee of $3 million. This nicely fills up the state coffers, but according to some lawmakers and representatives of the industry, such a tax structure does not allow gambling venues to grow – increase salaries, upgrade their offerings, or make investments.
The bill, which was reintroduced earlier this year, was once again tabled at the Wednesday meeting. However, it is widely believed, especially after Secretary Geisenberger expressed his opinion, that discussions would start soon as soon as possible. Sen. Brian Bushweller, who is the bill’s primary sponsor, said at the meeting that this situation cannot continue and that casino taxes should be reviewed as soon as possible.
What Could Change if the Proposal Becomes a Law?
The bipartisan Senate Bill 144 is backed by 13 Democrats and 7 Republicans and despite the apparent consensus between representatives of the two parties, the bill is still facing a strong opposition. There are concerns that it may lead to a lost revenue of $20 million a year which is crucial for the State of Delaware. Some also believe that the reason behind the decreased revenues of casinos in the past years is their bad management and not the high taxes.
But proponents of the bill claim that gambling venues need the reform and that immediate actions need to be taken to avoid casino closures. According to Sen. Bushweller, more than 1,500 jobs across the state would be at risk if the Legislature does not reduce the tax. Others believe that this number is much higher and that casinos actually support over 3,000 jobs in the sector and in other industries, too.
Bushweller said that the casino tax has doubled since the 1990’s and that currently, the state of Delaware is simply taking too much money from the three gambling venues. With the growing competition from neighboring states, this tax burden may pave the way for the end of the industry, some experts warn. Many states are already considering slots at racetracks, while tribal casinos are no longer within reserve borders. Most states are also preparing to allow sports betting ahead of the crucial Supreme Court ruling before the summer.