Oklahoma Legislature Up in Smoke Over Gambling and Cigarettes, Pennsylvania Too

Posted on: May 9, 2017, 03:30h. 

Last updated on: May 9, 2017, 02:35h.

The Oklahoma Legislature has reached an impasse over the so-called sin industries of gambling and cigarettes.

Oklahoma gaming expansion cigarette tax
Oklahoma House Minority Leader Scott Inman wants to expand gaming, but his Republican constituents think he should put that idea in his pipe and smoke it. (Image: Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)

Both the Oklahoma Senate and House are controlled by the GOP, but that isn’t stopping the minority party from blocking a cigarette tax increase proposed by House Republicans.

Democrats in the lower chamber are doing so in order to give their side leverage in ongoing budget negotiations, and their wishes to expand gambling and allow tribal casinos to offer roulette and dice games.

Oklahoma lawmakers are looking for ways to close an $878 million funding gap. While Republicans can pass the budget of their choosing, they need a three-fourths vote to raise cigarette taxes, and the 26 Democrats in the 101-member House aren’t budging.

“We’ve said all along that a cigarette tax is just a Band-Aid on a bullet hole,” Oklahoma House Minority Leader Scott Inman (D-District 94) told the Associated Press. “You’ve got to have additional revenue.”

This week, the House and Senate budget committees recommended a $1.50 per cigarette pack tax increase. To make the budget whole with only that tariff hike, Oklahomans would need to purchase roughly 585.3 million packs of smokes.

GOP Extinguishes Gambling

Republican leaders in Oklahoma feel casinos are already too accessible, and expanded gaming would result in additional negative societal consequences.

“I think we have too much gambling going on in the state,” Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz (R-District 38) opined this week. “I think we have people who are spending milk and bread money in a casino rather than taking care of their kids.”

Democrats proposed a plan that claims to generate $400 million over the next year. In addition to the cigarette tax, the minority recommended a $17,000 cap on itemized income tax deductions for citizens, the restoration of the earned income tax credit, eliminating oil and gas production incentives, and expanding tribal gaming.

The casino component would have allowed tribes to offer non-house-banked table games like roulette and craps in exchange for 10 percent of their monthly net win. It also called for the legalization of sports betting should the current federal ban be repealed.

With Democrats refusing to budge on cigarettes, and Republicans standing firm on keeping gambling as is, the Oklahoma Legislature has reached a budget stalemate.

Pennsylvania’s Smoking Gun

While the Oklahoma Legislature is expected to hold special budget sessions to iron out its differences over gambling and smoking, a bipartisan bill in Pennsylvania seeks to outlaw cigarettes in casinos and watering holes.

Pennsylvania House Bill 1309 will expand on the state’s 2008 Clean Indoor Air Act to remove exemptions for gambling venues and bars. Casinos are currently allowed to designate a portion of their floors to smoking, and taverns that report 20 percent or less of their revenue comes from food can allow patrons to puff.

With 18 bill sponsors that includes Democrats and Republicans, HB 1309 seems to be the first gaming-related measure to have across-the-aisle support in Harrisburg this year. The state is considering a host of gaming expansion bills to fund its own growing budget deficit.