State unlikely to approve table games anytime soon

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HARRISBURG -- Two casino executives want the state Legislature to let Pennsylvania casinos add popular table games, like blackjack, poker, dice and roulette, to the hundreds of slot machines already available for bettors.

However, with Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, and many legislative Republicans opposed to an expansion of legalized gambling right now, it doesn't appear the General Assembly will act on the idea anytime soon.

Testifying yesterday on behalf of House Bill 2121, sponsored by House Democratic leader Bill DeWeese of Waynesburg, were Bill Paulos, a principal of Cannery Casino Resorts, which owns The Meadows harness track and slots parlor in Washington County, and Robert Soper, general manager of Mohegan Sun casino near Wilkes-Barre.

Mr. Paulos said the two casinos in northern West Virginia, not that far from his gaming parlor, now offer table games, which puts The Meadows at a competitive disadvantage.

"We have no doubt lost slot players" to the West Virginia casinos, where they can play table games and slots, he said.

"In northeast Pennsylvania, support of table games is overwhelming," said Mr. Soper.

Speaking to lawmakers at a House Gaming Oversight Committee hearing yesterday, both men said their casinos, with table games, could add hundreds more jobs, and the state would rake in millions more in revenue to be used for school property tax relief.

"Table games will have an equal or greater impact on employment of Pennsylvania residents than the existing slots gaming legislation," Mr. Paulos added.

Since Mr. DeWeese is a House member, action would have to start out in the House, which is narrowly controlled by Democrats, 102-101.

But even if the bill passed the House, it would then have to go to the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans 29-21. Many Republicans are conservative on social issues, and opposed the original slots law that was enacted in July 2004.

Senate GOP counsel Stephen MacNett called the table games bill "wildly premature," since only half of the 14 slots casinos authorized by the 2004 law are even open yet. He said that much more time is needed to see how state regulation of them works out.

He said the House has many more important issues to consider in June, including the most pressing one, passage of a new state budget for fiscal year 2007-08, which starts July 1.

Rep. Will Gabig, R-Cumberland, said the state gaming control board must improve both its regulatory process and its background investigation procedure before there is any expansion of legal gambling.

Several other House Republicans, including Reps. Mike Turzai of Bradford Woods, Douglas Reichley of Lehigh, and Mike Vereb of Montgomery, along with state Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, have introduced bills to trim the power of the gaming board.

They want to move the board's background-check agency, the Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement, away from the gaming board and put it under "an authorized criminal justice agency" such as Attorney General Tom Corbett.

Republicans are upset that Louis DeNaples, a Poconos casino owner, was given a slots license in December 2006 and then last year was charged with perjury for allegedly lying to a grand jury about organized crime associates.

Republicans claim the gaming board didn't do a sufficient job of examining Mr. DeNaples' business background or the financial wherewithal of Pittsburgh casino developer Don Barden, who is now trying to reorganize his finances so he can build the $770 million Majestic Star casino on the North Shore.

"If gaming board members don't have anything to hide, they should come before the House and explain why they awarded these licenses," said Mr. Turzai.

Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at or 1-717-787-4254.


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