Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1954 No. 242 -
Attorney General Don Eastvold


1. A city may require a school district to collect an admissions tax on student athletic events season ticket.

2. A city admissions tax is applicable to a state institution of higher learning in the same way in which it applies to a school district.

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                                                                   April 20, 1954

Honorable Donald C. Sampson
Executive Secretary
Legislative Council
206-C Administration Building
University of Washington
Seattle 5, Washington                                                                                           Cite as:  AGO 53-55 No. 242

Dear Sir:

            By letter, as previously acknowledged, you have requested the opinion of this office upon two questions, relating to the levy and collection of an admissions tax by cities under RCW 35.21.280, as follows:

            1. Can a city require a school district to collect an admissions tax on a student athletic events ticket issued for a scholastic term?

            2. Can the admissions tax be applied to tickets for athletic and other events sponsored by the University or State College of Washington in the same way as it is applied to tickets for events sponsored by a school district?

            It is our opinion, and you are accordingly advised, that both questions should be answered in the affirmative.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]


            1. RCW 35.21.280 provides in relevant part that

            "Every city and town may levy and fix a tax of not more than one cent on twenty cents or fraction thereof to be paid by the person who pays an admission charge to any place.  This includes a tax on persons who are admitted free of charge or at reduced rates to any place for which other persons pay a charge or a regular higher charge for the same privileges or accommodations.  The city or town may require anyone who receives payment for an admission charge to collect and remit the tax to the city or town.

            "The term'admission charge' includes:

            "(1) A charge made for season tickets or subscriptions; * * *" (Emphasis supplied)

            As noted in our opinion of March 2, 1954, AGO 53-55 No. 218 [[to Donald C. Sampson, Legislative Council]], as transmitted to you by letter on March 26, 1954, a school district may be required by an admissions tax ordinance to collect and remit such a tax.

            The only distinction to be considered here is that some admissions may be by

            "* * * a student athletic events ticket, issued for a scholastic term, and to some extent having a relationship to the educational pursuits of the student * * *"

            Quite clearly, although a student may receive a lower rate on a season admission, such a ticket is within the express language of the statute.  The fact that attendance upon athletic events in which his potential alma mater participates may be a part of his extra-curricular [[extracurricular]]activities indicates merely a matter of preference upon the part of the student.  Exhibitions of sporting skill and competition, although performed by his classmates, partake of the same nature as those performed by professionals for gain, insofar as the necessity of payment for admission by the viewer is concerned.  The fact that a ticket is required makes this apparent, even though the rate may be reduced.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            In our experience, no scholastic or physical training credit is given for exercise of the privilege represented by the ticket.  The admission, and the tax thereupon, appear to us to be perfectly divorced from the school as such, and applicable only to those individuals who secure tickets, whether by courtesy or purchase.  In short, the tax falls upon a reasonable class ‑ ticket-holders ‑ which may include students and others.  When students place themselves within the class, they subject themselves to the tax.

            2. Your second inquiry is in effect whether or not the tax is equally applicable to state institutions of higher learning.  Our answer, "Yes," is founded upon our opinion as given to Mr. Harold Shefelman, Attorney for the Board of Regents, University of Washington, on August 11, 1943, a copy of which is attached for your convenience.  The reasoning contained therein may be summarized very briefly as follows:  (a) It is the rule that taxation is the rule and exemption the exception; (b) there is no exemption stated in the enabling statute, now RCW 35.21.280; (c) there is no undue burden upon the school by reason of the mechanics of collection; and (d) when the school conducts entertainment, recreation or amusement activities for profit it acts in a proprietary capacity, subjecting itself to the same conditions thereof in this respect at least as would a private business.

            We sincerely hope the foregoing will clarify this problem for you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General