State Poised to Strike Casino Firearms Ban

AG's office says Gaming Board doesn't have the authority.

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The State of Pennsylvania appears ready to strike down its longstanding casino firearms ban.

Casinos would still be able to bar guns from their premises, under the new rule to be considered next week by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission. But the current blanket ban — in effect since 2008 — appears to be illegal under a 2011 state law restricting the ability of state agencies to regulate firearms.

Don’t expect Pennsylvania casinos to become a shooting gallery, however.

“SugarHouse officials are indeed aware of the November 20th IRRC meeting,” said Jack Horner, a spokesman for the Philadelphia casino. “However, we will continue to enforce a ban of firearms and other weapons on casino property.”

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board declined comment.

The Legislature overwhelmingly passed a “Stand Your Ground” bill in 2011 that included a prohibition against state agencies offering firearms regulations inconsistent with the rules set out in state law. (A similar provision, prohibiting local governments from doing the same, is found elsewhere in the state’s gun laws.)

It wasn’t until April 19th of this year, however, that Berks County attorney Joshua Prince, representing the Firearms Industry Consulting Group — a division of his law firm — challenged the Gaming Board’s gun prohibition.

“There exists an inalienable right to defend one’s self,” Prince said in his letter to the board, adding: “One only needs to perform a quick Google search to find numerous occasions, even limited to Pennsylvania, of law-abiding individuals being assaulted and robbed at casinos.”

A September review by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office concluded that Prince was correct, and that “the Board no longer had the authority to limit the possession of firearms in a licensed casino facility by persons who possess a valid permit to carry,” according to an IRRC memo on the issue.

That makes the IRRC’s vote next week something of a formality, since the change will merely bring the Gaming Control Board’s rules in line with state law. Still, the news was alarming to Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, a gun-control group.

“Now you’ll be able to carry a firearm at a place where money changes hands, people are drinking a lot, people get emotional,” she said. “I don’t see how that makes us safer.”

Goodman said she hopes casinos choose to prohibit guns on their own premises.  “I think it’s a very dangerous mix,” she said.

The IRRC meets at 10 a.m. on November 20th in Harrisburg.

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