Guide to Seattle's Business License & Taxes
The admissions tax was originally imposed through Ordinance 72495 in March 1943. The tax was imposed on events at a wide range of facilities, including theaters, dance halls, amphitheaters, auditoriums, stadiums, athletic pavilions, circuses, sideshows, swimming pools, amusement parks, and similar venues. The tax rate was set at 5% of the ticket price. A separate section described a tax procedure for facilities in which the admissions price also include food or drinks, such as cabarets and roof gardens.
The tax was removed from events sponsored by elementary and secondary schools by Ordinance 87103 in April 1958. This was in response to a new State law that precluded such taxation. In addition, the tax rate for movies and for events for "charitable or non-profit community purposes" was changed to 3.33% in the same ordinance.
The 5% admission tax was extended to municipal golf courses by Ordinance 90685 in November 1961.
The tax rate for all events and activities was lowered to 3% in January 1963 through Ordinance 91775.
The tax rate for all events and activities was raised back to 5% in December 1969 through Ordinance 98403.
The current exemption for non-profit or collegiate arts, historic, or scientific organizations was established by Ordinance 102719 in November 1973. The exemptions applied to a wide range of activities sponsored by such organizations, including musical performances, plays, exhibitions, museum admissions, and science facility admissions. Programs performed by guest artists generally were still subject to the admissions tax.
Private golf courses were made subject to the admissions tax by Ordinance 105836 in September 1976. However, exclusions were allowed for dues, initiation fees, and maintenance assessments, so little tax was actually collected.
Service charges were included within the admissions price by Ordinance 106751 in September 1977. This had the effect of applying the admissions tax to these service charges.
The arts exemption was broadened to include "film arts" by Ordinance 108608 in November 1979.
The tax rate on live entertainment performed by guest artists under the sponsorship of a tax-exempt organization was reduced to 2.5% for 1982 and the tax was eliminated for 1983 and subsequent years, under the provisions of Ordinance 110275 passed in November 1981. The policy as originally drafted was confusing to the public, which led to the passage of Ordinance 110374 in February 1982.
The admissions tax was re-codified to nearly its present form through Ordinance 111449 in December 1983. This ordinance established the 3,100 seating capacity limit for tax-exempt events. It also prohibited non-exempt groups from avoiding the tax by obtaining an "endorsement" from an exempt group.
The annual Bumbershoot Festival at Seattle Center was exempted from tax by Ordinance 113498 in July 1987.
Bowling was exempted from the admissions tax by Ordinance 114708 in September 1989. In addition, events sponsored by certain nonprofit, human services agencies received an exemption from collection of the tax.
The admissions tax was extended to complimentary and discount admissions through Ordinance 115957 in December 1991. This ordinance also provided an exemption for events sponsored by PTSAs that directly benefited elementary and secondary schools.
Ordinance 120668 effective January 1, 2002 , clarified definitions, added the Woodland Park Zoo to the list of exempt organization, clarified the criteria under which a nonprofit, human services agency may qualify for an exemption, and extended the general provisions of SMC Chapter 5.55 to Admission Tax.
For more information contact the Licensing & Tax Administration's information number, (206) 684-8484 and request an Admissions Tax Inspector.
City of Seattle