Rights of Casino Owners Should Never Come Before Voters’ Rights


Campaign Legal Center is defending the First Amendment rights of Pennsylvania voters to a fully representative and accountable state government.

When Pennsylvania created a legal, highly regulated state gaming industry, it also prohibited casino owners and others with a stake in that industry from donating to state political campaigns. Pennsylvania recognized that its decision to award valuable state-protected monopoly licenses to a handful of casinos came with special risks, and adopted the contribution ban to address them.   

At least 17 states and the federal government, as well as many municipalities, place similar limits on campaign contributions from those doing business with the government. Courts have upheld a wide range of these laws, which are aimed at preventing “pay to play” corruption.

And at least nine other states ban or otherwise restrict campaign contributions from the gaming industry specifically. Like Pennsylvania, these states recognized that limiting political contributions from state casino monopolies was necessary to ensure that lawmakers won’t place the narrow interests of casino owners above the broad interests of their constituents.

But two Pennsylvania casino licensees challenged Pennsylvania’s law as a violation of their rights. A district court struck down the law in September, and the case is now on appeal to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

CLC, along with Common Cause, filed a friend-of-the-court brief at the district court level, and now again with the 3rd Circuit. The brief defends Pennsylvania’s authority to adopt laws that prevent corruption and thereby reinforce “public confidence in the system of representative government.”

When someone seeks business or individualized benefits from the government – like a state gaming license – the risk of corruption is at its peak. As the brief argues, preventing Pennsylvania from addressing this risk would come at great cost to Pennsylvanians’ First Amendment rights to representative and accountable self-government.

Learn more about the case, Deon v. Barasch.