A proposal for a casino in Sussex County was tabled in Legislative Hall before either chamber could vet the bill. House Bill 135 would create two new casinos – one in New Castle County and one in Sussex.
Members of the House Gaming and Pari-mutuels Committee voted unanimously May 15 to table the bill. Rep. Dennis E. Williams, D-Talleyville, the bill’s sponsor, said he plans to bring the bill back to the committee in two weeks.
Williams said some committee members wanted the bill to specify fees and taxes the new casinos would pay to the state. He said he would take the bill to Secretary of Finance Tom Cook to incorporate specific rates then reintroduce it to the gaming committee.
Williams announced May 9 he was sponsoring the legislation. “Two additional casinos in Delaware means more jobs in Delaware,” Williams said at the committee hearing.
Rep. John L. Mitchell, D-Elsmere, said Delaware’s three existing racinos are laying-off employees and revenues are down. He said adding two more casinos will only take revenue away from the three existing sites. “I just don’t see the numbers increasing as far as revenue,” he said.
Representatives of Delaware’s existing casinos attended the committee meeting to testify against the legislation. Ed Sutor, chief executive officer of Dover Downs, said his casino used to contribute $250,000 a year to the state’s general fund; now, it can only contribute $190,000 a year.
“The Mid-Atlantic area is not only saturated, it’s supersaturated,” Sutor said. “Our revenues are down over 25 percent.”
Bill Fasy, president of Delaware Park in Wilmington said the current tax structure and declining revenues at the casino make it hard to employee people full-time. “The three racinos want to have full-time employees working for them,” he said.
After the vote, Williams said adding two new casinos is the only way to give Delaware’s three existing some tax relief. He said if five casinos are paying taxes to the state instead of three, the state could lower the rate paid by each venue and still have more money coming into the general fund.
Williams said the state would also make money from personal income taxes paid by employees of the casinos and from jobs created in the surrounding communities because of the influx of visitors.
Jamie Rostocki, who is proposing a new casino location in Delmar, testified in favor of the bill, saying it would foster economic development. He said his project, which is adjacent to an automotive raceway, could bring the auto-racing industry to Delmar. “We’re not just talking about the expansion of gambling,” he said.
Harry Gravell, president of Delaware Building and Construction Trades Council also spoke in favor of HB 135, saying it would create jobs for unemployed construction workers. “I represent about 1,000 people who are out of work,” he said.
The bill would create a bipartisan nine-member committee to determine where the casinos would be located and who would operate them.
The committee would be required to base its decision on lottery revenue, estimated personal income tax revenue from employee wages, cost to the state to facilitate construction and operation and economic impact on surrounding communities. The new casinos would not be required to offer horse racing, but they would be required to contribute to the Delaware Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, Williams said.
Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, introduced a similar bill in the last General Assembly. House Bill 40 would have allowed two new casinos in the state – one in Sussex County and one in New Castle County – through an application process conducted by a Lottery Redevelopment Committee. Williams was a co-sponsor of the bill.
Similarly, the House Gaming and Pari-mutuels Committee tabled HB 40 shortly after it was introduced in 2011.
HB 40’s co-sponsors included Rep. John, Atkins, D-Millsboro; Rep. Michael Barbieri, D-Newark; Rep. Stephanie Bolden, D-Wilmington; Rep. John L. Mitchell, D-Elsmere; and Williams – all are now on the 10-member House Gaming Committee.