Pennsylvania's Ban on Gambling Contributions Has Been Officially Lifted



Staff member
May 3, 2008
The ban on gambling contributions for casino employees and operators in Pennsylvania is officially out of the picture. Sylvia Rambo, the U.S. District Judge, struck down the law that prohibited casino owners, staff and anyone even slightly involved in gambling activities to donate to the political campaigns, stating that the law is too broad to be constitutional. It simply prevented a wide-ranging number of companies and individuals to contribute to political campaigns unfairly.

Reasons for Lifting the Ban

The federal judge expressed her opinion in over 30 pages, explaining to the American people that the law in question violated constitutional protections over political links. Rambo, however, struck only that ban, not a similar one that goes for fighting corruption and is far narrower.

In fact, she deemed the ban as unconstitutional in its current form, because it goes far beyond the scope of eliminating corruption and violates the First Amendment right to political association. She then enjoins its enforcement and proposes to get the Legislature to rewrite it and define strictly who should be limited from contributions, and actually limit only those closely connected to casinos. Additionally, she says that the amount of the contributions should be specified and people should know where they stand. The law acts as a wholesale ban on any kind of contribution in this form.

Why Now?

The law was actually challenged by Pasquale Deon and Maggie Hardy Magerko, as they filed a lawsuit last year. They argued that their rights have been violated, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the First Amendment, which prohibits a certain gambling-related class of people from making any political contributions. One of them owns a 2.5 percent stake in a popular casino, Sands Casino Resort, and the other one owns the 84 Lumber and is a beneficiary of the trust that owns Lady Luck Casino. Both of them are regular contributors to Republican campaigns and one of them is even a chairman of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and a member of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. They both claimed that the law, in its current form, is highly discriminatory.

The current form forbids as small contributions as $1 by those who even have an attenuated link to gambling, and it clearly exceeds the necessary scope for such a ban. It is crisp clear that there have to be some boundaries, some rules that would need to be followed. The ban for any casino vendor, a stakeholder in a casino, important casino employees, slot-machine manufacturers, and non-owner casino executives was too broad. Which casino employees are banned exactly? How can a casino dealer know whether or not he is banned? Things should be clearer, that's for sure.

Having in mind that Pennsylvania is actually the second largest country in gambling gross revenue, right behind Nevada obviously, with 12 active casinos, one under construction, and many new online casinos with pending approvals for gambling licenses, there must be hundreds of casino employees, owners, and shareholders all across the state. How can they all be banned from contributing to the campaigns?

Although there were some attempts to lift the ban, it stood largely since 2004, when commercial casinos were first legalized by the state. It was actually proposed with hopes to prevent gambling industry influence in politics and corruption. The Supreme Court tried to strike it down in 2009, and was down for a while, until the lawmakers restored it, clearing up the wording that the ban is for all contributions, regardless of everything. Now Neon and Maggie put it in question again.

What Happens Next?

The U.S. District Judge Sylvia Rambo ruled that the Pennsylvania Gaming Act of 2004 violates Deon and Magerko’s First Amendment rights, as well as the rights of those in a similar situation, and deemed it unconstitutional.

However, this does not end here. The state could easily appeal Rambo’s decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. In fact, judging by the reaction of the Attorney General Josh Shapiro and the representative of the PGCB (Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board), named as defendants in this lawsuit, who claimed that Magerko and Deon’s burden caused by the ban were minimal and denied all allegations, the state may as well appeal.

Yukon Gold Casino