Delaware County sets up authority to oversee Internet gaming funds

By KATHLEEN E. CAREY | delcotimes.com
PUBLISHED: September 5, 2020 at 11:30 p.m. | UPDATED: August 19, 2021 at 1:05 a.m.

Delaware County Council established the Delaware County Internet Gaming Revenue Authority to distribute funds from such gaming, as that is anticipated to take off since Harrah’s introduced it in March.

In October 2017, Internet gaming became legal in Pennsylvania with Gov. Tom Wolf signing HB 271, allowing for online casino games, poker, lottery, sports betting and fantasy sports. Caesar’s Sportsbook at Harrah’s Philadelphia went live with sports betting in March.

In July, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board reported a gross revenue of $54 million in Internet gaming during that month at 10 Pennsylvania casinos, resulting in generated tax revenue of $23.6 million. In that same period, Harrah’s Philadelphia, which had just started its online gaming endeavor four months earlier at the site which despite the name is actually in Chester, reported $831,865 of total Internet games revenue.

Under the state law, 1 percent of Harrah’s daily gross interactive gaming revenue will be paid to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, who will then distribute it to this five-person authority to be used for grants of economic development, municipal police and emergency services and other purposes of public interest throughout Delaware County. Such grants will be approved by county council.

The members of the Delaware County Internet Gaming Revenue Authority include Doreen Storey of Chester; Frances Sheehan of Media; Stefan Roots of Chester; Paul Johnson of Prospect Park; and Ronald Evans of Media. They each have staggered terms ending in 2022 through 2026, as required by law in establishing this authority.

“This is the step required to be taken by the county in order to establish a vehicle to accept the county share of these funds,” Delaware County Solicitor William F. Martin said at Wedensday’s county council meeting, where the authority had its final reading and unanimous approval.

Delaware County Councilwoman Elaine Paul Schaefer said the Internet gaming revenue proves to be beneficial to the county, and unlike other gaming revenue, is not limited to be spent in any particular geographic area.

“This interactive gaming revenue looks like its going to be quite substantial in terms of its percentage against regular gaming income, probably COVID-related,” she said. “It is really a benefit to us as a county to have this coming towards us so that we can invest it in economic development. We as a county have not had the most robust economic development investment in the past and this council is very interested in increasing our investment and really working on our growing our efforts across the county in economic development, so this will help us greatly.”

Adding that she would remain agnostic about the gaming practices themselves, Schaefer said, “I will say this is a great benefit to our efforts as a community to reinvest and invest in our economic development programs.”

County Councilman Kevin Madden said cognizant of various ethical beliefs on gaming, county council does not have the authority over gambling here.

“Whether we accept the money or not does not have any impact on state law as to whether interactive gaming is legal in Pennsylvania,” he said. “By passing this ordinance, we are simply receiving funds that would essentially be going to waste if we weren’t to pass it. This doesn’t really have any impact on whether gaming is allowed in Delaware County but it at least allows … for us to really make some investments in the commerce of Delaware County that really haven’t been made previously.”

County Councilwoman Christine Reuther acknowledged that gaming is recreation for a lot of people and can be an addiction for others.

“The bottom line is it’s not our call whether gaming is allowed in Pennsylvania,” she said. “I think every county has the ability to capture revenue and put it to work for their citizens, I think we’d really be remiss if we didn’t do that. It’s not an endorsement of gaming … but we have a job to do and one of those jobs is to look out for the taxpayers and to make sure that … money that comes our way is captured and used appropriately.”