Time is running out. Lawmakers have just 30 days to amend the state's gaming law by the May 26 deadline set by the state Supreme Court.
In Erie County, roughly $11 million a year hangs in the balance. That is the amount the county had been receiving as a casino host fee under legislation deemed unconstitutional by the court in September. The money has been used to support basic municipal services and fund far-reaching economic and community development projects.
Now with the law back on the drawing board, other counties see a chance to claim a piece of the state's gaming action. This would undermine important work in Erie and betray a promise made when Erie County agreed to host gaming and all the burdens, especially traffic and emergency services, it entails.
A key lawmaker, Republican state Sen. Maria Scavello, chairwoman of the Senate's Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee, told Erie Times-News reporter Nico Salvatori that he is confident the May 26 deadline will be met and that Erie County's share of gaming revenue will be protected. Erie County state Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-49th Dist., expressed similar confidence without providing any detail.
State Rep. Pat Harkins, who represents Erie's east side, is hoping for the best but also, wisely we think, preparing for the worst. He said he was preparing to introduce a stand-alone bill in the event the reform legislation, which is being mingled with other initiatives, including the legalization of internet gaming, stalls. Harkins' version would tweak the formula to steer some of the revenues to the city of Erie.
Erie County has created a smart, effective and responsible process to distribute the community's share of Presque Isle Downs & Casino revenues, which now go to county government, the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority and Summit Township. Since 2009, $43 million has been invested in important regional projects, supporting job creation, education and community events.
Members of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, who held a public hearing in Erie in March, praised Erie's model as worth emulating statewide.
ECGRA Executive Director Perry Wood predicts those lawmakers will "have Erie in the back of their minds" as they deliberate. "They know a good thing is happening here with gaming funds and they are not going to want to screw that up," Wood said.
Wood and area lawmakers are to be commended for their strong, clear advocacy for the Erie region. The gaming revenues are critical to efforts, large and small, to turn Erie and the region around. The Legislature must not, as Wood said, screw that up.