Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania’s plan for 24-hour casino liquor sales a flop
Source: The Morning Call
July 24, 2016
Cash-strapped and hard-pressed to fill a $1 billion budget hole, state legislators figured giving casinos the right to buy a $1 million license to sell liquor around the clock was one of those win-win scenarios politicians covet.
The state gets $12 million and casinos no longer have to cut gamblers off at 2 a.m.
A no-brainer, right? Well, yes, but not in the way legislators were hoping.
“We’re not going to pay $1 million for the privilege of selling alcohol after 2 a.m. and I don’t know of any other casino that will,” Sands Casino CEO Mark Juliano said. “Who advises these legislators? This one doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
That means that the $149 million legislators hoped to generate from the new liquor law passed in June already has a $12 million hole and the law doesn’t take effect until Aug. 8. The law called for casinos to pay $1 million for a license to serve liquor on the gambling floor 24 hours a day, overriding state law that forbids serving liquor between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.
After the first year, casinos could then pay $1 million a year to renew the license for the next four years, before the renewal fee dropped to $250,000 a year.
Legislators assumed every casino would buy one, so voila, $12 million in the bank.
But since the expanded liquor sales provision was signed June 8, word that there will be no takers has trickled back to legislators, who are already planning to adjust the law when they return to session in September.
A change to the bill has been written to cut the license fee to $500,000, and the renewal fee to $250,000. That would reduce the state pay day to $6 million this year, but John O’Brien, an aide for House Appropriations Chairman William Adolph, R-Bucks, said the bill will include other revenue-generating items to offset the licensing fee loss.
“There will be things in there that will maintain the $149 million gained from the bill,” O’Brien said. “We’re not counting on that [license fee] money.”
That’s a good thing because Eric Shippers, spokesman for Hollywood Casino in Grantville, Dauphin County, said Hollywood won’t be buying one.
“We just don’t have the need to serve liquor 24/7,” Schippers said. “We probably wouldn’t take a license if they were free.”
Not only is it not worth hiring more staff to serve and regulate the relatively few people in the casino at those hours, Juliano added, but Sands has no interest in becoming the place where people come to find liquor after every other place has closed.
“There’s a liability concern. It’s just not what we want,” Juliano said. “My father used to say nothing good happens after midnight. This is sort of a variation of that. It’s not such a bad thing that we don’t serve alcohol between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.”