More Delay in Delaware

A panel formed to study ways to provide relief to Delaware’s struggling casino industry canceled its February meeting, pushing back its recommendations to lawmakers. Chairman Tom Cook (l.) now says the report will be ready before the legislature convenes on March 18.

The panel formed to study ways to help Delaware’s struggling racinos canceled its February meeting, throwing its mission of recommending legislative action to revive the gaming industry into question.

The Delaware Lottery and Gaming Study Commission was originally supposed to provide recommendations on helping the industry to the state legislature by January 31. Just before that date, the chairman of the commission, state Finance Secretary Tom Cook, announced it would need another month, because it had failed to reach consensus on the action needed.

The nine-member commission, including a bipartisan group of lawmakers, a representative from the State Chamber of Commerce and Alan Levin, director of the Delaware Economic Development Office, was formed to provide relief to an industry that has been reeling from new competition in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The three racinos—Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway—have been pushing the panel to recommend reductions on a revenue tax, , now effectively over 60 percent, and reduction or elimination of various recurring fees. Investors for developers seeking non-racetrack casinos in New Castle and Sussex counties have criticized the racinos for what they say is mismanagement of profits, and continue to push for new venues.

Cook had informed the legislature that the panel’s report would be delivered by February 28. However, a final meeting slated for February 20 was canceled due to what the commission identified as scheduling issues.

Commission Chairman Cook said the panel will work to complete its report within the next few weeks. “The goal is to have it certainly before (the legislators) get back to session (on March 18),” Cook told the Delaware State News. “I think everybody wants to do this and do it right. I’ve found it’s been very challenging to coordinate the schedules of nine different people.”

One lawmaker on the panel questioned whether any action to help the casinos can be accomplished this year, without a recommendation from the panel. In an interview with Delaware’s News Journal, state Senator Brian Bushweller, who represents Dover, said he fears that if lawmakers do not receive recommendations from the panel soon, “the whole issue could just drift through the rest of the 2014 session and we might never get to a decision as to what to do about it.

“It’s a far better thing if we made a specific recommendation and said, ‘Here, chew on this, and if you want to change it, change it, but at least here’s a starting point for you.’ I think it’s worth a shot to keep working on it. The stakes are too high.”