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Trump considers letting small casino businesses get loans to cover payroll

Small businesses with gaming revenues are not allowed in the Paycheck Protection Program

A bar with video poker machines in Central City, Colorado, sits empty on March 26, 2020, after being closed by state mandate earlier in the month.
A bar with video poker machines in Central City, Colorado, sits empty on March 26, 2020, after being closed by state mandate earlier in the month. (Rick T. Wilking/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he would consider concerns raised by small casinos and gambling businesses that can’t get access to emergency loans designed to cover payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I will take a look at that strongly,” the president said in response to a question in the White House briefing room. “Nobody’s told me about it.”

The issue raised by members of the Nevada congressional delegation, as well as Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and the gaming industry, relates to the Small Business Administration’s regulations for the Paycheck Protection Program loans.

“Many of our casinos — including hotels — are small businesses, and they employ many tens of thousands of employees across our state, making up the backbone of Nevada’s economy,” the Nevada congressional delegation wrote in a Wednesday letter to House and Senate leadership. “These small businesses are located in both our large urban areas and rural communities. Furthermore, many Nevada small businesses such as restaurants, bars, grocery stores, and convenience stores operate gaming equipment and derive revenue from it.”

Video poker and slot machines are regularly found in small stores across the state of Nevada. Many small businesses that would otherwise be eligible for the forgivable loans for businesses with fewer than 500 employees are saying they are excluded.

“Congressional intent in the CARES Act for the new Paycheck Protection Program was for all small businesses to be eligible for PPP, in direct response to the nationwide economic downturn resulting from the coronavirus pandemic,” the Nevada lawmakers wrote.

Last week, Nevada Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen joined with Bennet on a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza urging that rule-making permitted otherwise-eligible establishments that have gaming operations to get the loans.

“While there is no statutory mandate from Congress to exclude size-eligible gaming operations from receiving SBA assistance such as disaster loans, SBA regulations and standard operating procedures have previously precluded entities that receive more than one-third of their gross annual revenue from legal gambling activities from receiving these SBA loans,” the three senators wrote.

The Trump administration has applied a similar standard to the PPP assistance, prompting the Nevada delegation, as well as the American Gaming Association, to seek relief.

AGA President and CEO Bill Miller wrote directly to Trump on Wednesday seeking changes to the April 2 Interim Final Rules from the SBA.

“Specifically, these interim rules rely on antiquated, discriminatory policy that renders small gaming entities ineligible to receive critical loan assistance designed to help small businesses pay their employees,” Miller wrote, enclosing letters from members of Congress in both parties.

Neither the Treasury nor the Small Business Administration responded to queries from CQ Roll Call about the limitations on gaming operations on Wednesday, prior to the president’s news conference.