Bill: Table games at casinos, slots at bars
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HARRISBURG -- Even though the idea faces long odds, two southwestern Pennsylvania Democrats plan to push for two major additions to the legalized gambling scene in the state.
Rep. Tim Solobay of Canonsburg said yesterday that he and House Democratic Whip Bill DeWeese of Waynesburg are crafting legislation for 2009 to permit table games at Pennsylvania's 14 authorized casinos and also to permit licensed liquor establishments, such as bars, taverns and private ethnic and fraternal clubs, to have up to six slot machines each.
Mr. DeWeese has for several years been pushing to add table games, such as poker, dice and blackjack, to the slot machines already authorized at Pennsylvania casinos.
So far, Gov. Ed Rendell, also a Democrat, hasn't favored table games. But Mr. DeWeese's House district borders West Virginia, which has casinos with table games, and he thinks Pennsylvania casinos should be on a level footing with those competitors.
Mr. Solobay said the Legislature should do something for smaller bars, many of which are suffering from the state's new anti-smoking law and from the current recession. He said that while many "VFWs, American Legions and mom and pop taverns" have video machines that can legally be used only for "amusement purposes,"' they should be able to add a small number -- he suggested six -- of video poker and other slot machines for gambling.
Like the thousands of slot machines now in state casinos, all the bar and club machines would be electronically connected to the centralized state computer in Harrisburg to make sure the state is getting its 55 percent share of gross terminal revenue, he said.
"These clubs do a nice service for their communities, paying for things like pavilions or playgrounds in parks, and we should help them out,'' he said.
As to whether allowing the hundreds of bars and clubs to have slot machines would take gaming business away from Pennsylvania's nascent casinos, Mr. Solobay said the bill would help casinos by adding table games.
"There has to be a little give and take," he said.
The table game/bar slots bill is expected to be introduced early in the new General Assembly session, which starts next month.
Mr. Solobay's idea for slots in bars and clubs is an expansion of an idea made in October by three other Pittsburgh-area Democrats, Frank Dermody, Dan Frankel and Don Walko, who suggested a measure allowing three slot machines per liquor establishment.
Mr. Rendell supported the legalization of slots casinos in July 2004, but has been opposed to adding any more legal gambling until all 14 casinos authorized by law are up and running and the full impact of those slots is known.
But Mr. Solobay said it isn't fair to The Meadows racetrack/casino in his district, or to the racetrack/casino in Erie or the others in the state to have to wait until all 14 are open. He said the two casinos proposed for Philadelphia are still several years away from opening, as they fight strong protests by citizens.
Chuck Ardo, a Rendell spokesman, said yesterday the administration "continues to believe it is too soon to think about expanded gaming until all the currently licensed venues are up and running and there is an opportunity to assess their impact."
But he didn't completely slam the door on Mr. Solobay's idea. "The governor will certainly consider the proposal and evaluate the legislation if it reaches his desk."
First Published December 23, 2008 12:00 am