Lawmakers could expand gambling at state resorts

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HARRISBURG -- With major tourism sites such as a Valley Forge hotel, the Nemacolin Woodlands resort and now a hotel near Gettysburg thinking about adding slot machines, state legislators may increase the number of "resort hotel" slots licenses from the current two to as many as four or five to accommodate the demand.

As part of the discussion to allow table games, the state Legislature is talking about "two to three additional Category 3 licenses" statewide, said Brett Marcy, spokesman for House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, D-Luzerne. The Legislature for more than a month has been working on the rules to allow table games -- the tax rate and license fee casinos would pay -- holding up subsidy money for colleges and nonprofit organizations that would be funded by expanded gambling.

After the 2004 gaming law was approved, there was limited interest in resort licenses, which can have up to 500 slot machines. But interest has grown with the possibility the state might change the rules to allow additional machines or the general public to use resort facilities.

A spokesman for Gettysburg motorcycle dealer David LeVan, who in 2006 failed to get a state license for a 5,000-slot casino near the historic battlefield, said yesterday Mr. LeVan is now interested in a license for what is called a Category 3 resort casino at an existing hotel several miles south of the Gettysburg town square.

The project -- the Mason Dixon Resort & Casino -- "would be a world-class Category 3 venue located about two miles from the Maryland border in southern Adams County," said LeVan spokesman David LaTorre. The casino, if granted a license by the state Gaming Control Board, would be located at the 307-room Eisenhower Hotel and Conference Center in Cumberland Township.

The state Gaming Control Board has only one Category 3 license left to award. The Valley Forge Convention Center, west of Philadelphia, already has received one of the state's two Category 3 licenses, but does not yet offer gambling.

Nemacolin officials in September expressed interest in possibly seeking a Category 3 license but haven't announced a firm decision. When the slots law was passed in 2004, Nemacolin had been interested in one of the two resort hotel slots licenses, but later dropped out. But with the Legislature now talking about adding table games to casinos, Nemacolin's interest has revived.

Besides the Valley Forge, Nemacolin and Gettysburg areas, other locations interested in a Category 3 slots license include Fernwood Hotel & Resort in the Poconos and the Crowne Plaza Reading Hotel near Reading, Berks County. If the Legislature increased the licenses to five, all of those sites could be accommodated.

Whether to increase the number of Category 3 licenses isn't the only issue that's now delaying a bill to legalize table games.

Legislators also are divided over the size of a one-time table-games license fee that casinos would have to pay; the state tax rate to be applied to table games revenue; whether host counties and towns should get some table games tax revenue; whether Category 3 casinos can have more than 500 slots -- perhaps as many as 1,500; and whether customers of Category 3 casinos would be limited just to people staying at the resort hotels or whether anyone could gamble there.

The Legislature's slowness in passing table-games legislation could hurt the state budget, which counts on getting $200 million in table games revenue by June 30. Since it takes six to nine months to enact new gaming regulations, train card dealers and reconfigure casino floors for dice, roulette and blackjack, the state might not get all the money it needs to balance the budget.

There's another problem facing Nemacolin and the Mason Dixon project: The Category 3 license application period is now closed. Only the Reading hotel and the Fernwood hotel applied before a July deadline. So if Nemacolin or the LeVan project are to proceed, the board would have to re-open the application period.

It's also not certain yet whether the Legislature will allow resort hotel casinos to have table games. Blackjack, roulette and other games might be limited to just the seven racetrack/casinos and the five stand-alone casinos permitted by the 2004 slots law.

But Mr. LeVan is willing to move forward with the Mason Dixon project even if Category 3 casinos can't have table games, Mr. LaTorre said. "He isn't motivated by the recent discussion about table games. He was interested in a Category 3 [near Gettysburg] long before the table games debate developed."

Mr. LaTorre said the Mason Dixon project, because it would close to the Maryland border, "allows us to tap a new market for Pennsylvania," meaning gamblers from Maryland, Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia. "It would bring new jobs, which is something that Adams County really needs."

The previous Gettysburg project drew wide opposition from those who said a gambling hall shouldn't be located so close to the historical battlefield.


Harrisburg Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254.


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