Rendell signs gambling bill, wants Pennsylvania table games on the fast track

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HARRISBURG -- With Gov. Ed Rendell pledging to get table games "up and running in as many casino venues as possible by July," Nemacolin Woodlands in Fayette County yesterday entered a four-way competition for the state's last resort casino license.

Mr. Rendell said he signed Senate Bill 711, which allows Pennsylvania casinos to add blackjack, poker, roulette and dice, even though he had "misgivings" about some aspects of the bill.

The state Gaming Control Board will now begin to develop regulations governing the new table games, which by late summer will be introduced at racetrack/casinos, stand-alone casinos and the state's two smaller resort hotel casinos. The regulatory work, along with the time casinos will need to hire and train card dealers and other table-game employees and rearrange their gaming floors, is expected to take six to nine months.

Nemacolin officials announced yesterday they will submit an application for the state's second and final resort casino license. They join three other venues also seeking the license: the proposed Mason-Dixon Hotel & Resort (in Adams County, south of Gettysburg), a convention center near Reading in Berks County and a resort called Fernwood in the Poconos.

Nemacolin said it has an agreement with Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. to manage its resort casino if it gets the state license. Isle of Capri lost a bid in 2006 to open a stand-alone casino in Pittsburgh in a joint venture with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The gaming board must hold at least one hearing on each resort application. It isn't known how long it will take to reach a decision. The state's only other resort casino license already has been given to the Valley Forge Convention Center near Philadelphia.

Nemacolin had been interested in a resort casino license after the original slots bill was passed in July 2004 but later changed its mind. It didn't like a requirement that in order to patronize the casino, customers had to stay overnight at the resort or spend at least $25 on one of Nemacolin's other "amenities," such as the spa or golf course.

But now, said Nemacolin owner Maggie Hardy Magerko, that requirement has been reduced to $10, and adding up to 50 table games would make a Nemacolin casino "a very attractive opportunity." She also liked Senate Bill 711 for raising the number of slots a resort casino can have from 500 to 600. Nemacolin's casino would be located in its Wild Side entertainment complex.

Mr. Rendell said the table games bill will generate an additional $250 million this year for the state's budget, which is important and overrode his concerns about the bill. He said the bill, fashioned by a Senate-House conference committee, is "laden" with special grants earmarked for favorite items of some legislators, such as community colleges, hospitals and libraries.

He also didn't like the fact that the law allows patrons in Philadelphia casinos to smoke, overriding a city law that bans smoking in public places.

But he said the new tax revenue is needed to balance the 2009-10 state budget and avoid laying off more than 1,000 state workers and cutting important programs.

The bill, which takes effect immediately, gives Nemacolin and the proposed Mason-Dixon resort near Gettysburg 90 days to apply for the last resort casino license. The resorts near Reading and in the Poconos have already applied.


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


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