Senate OKs table games, trouble looms in House
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HARRISBURG -- Any casino gambler will tell you that the odds are in the house's favor.
State lawmakers are about to test that theory as House members take up a controversial gaming bill that the Senate approved last night with amendments that House leaders say they can't support.
The Senate voted 27-22 and then abruptly adjourned until Jan. 5.
The bill would legalize poker, blackjack and table games in Pennsylvania's slot casinos. It also would amend gaming regulations and would expand the number of resort casino licenses from two to three.
The legislation now heads back to the House, where leaders promise to shoot it down.
The House narrowly passed its own version of the bill Tuesday. Its leaders expected minor changes in the Senate, but not an amendment that would limit the number of resort casino licenses to two and change how Philadelphia's 2 percent share of casino revenue would be divvied.
"These are substantive changes," said Brett Marcy, spokesman for Democratic Leader Todd Eachus, D-Luzerne. The changes to the bill "could sink it" in the House.
The Democrat-controlled House wants to expand the number of resort licenses from two to three, while the Republican-controlled Senate says two is plenty.
Another part of the Senate-amended bill would limit poker tournaments at resort casinos to 12 per year and would allow casinos to provide interest-free credit to gamblers.
The bill also includes several reforms to state casino regulations.
Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, opposed the bill, saying lawmakers had amended a gaming-reform bill into one that expands gambling and allows casino owners to give unlimited campaign contributions to political candidates.
Sen. Mike Stack, another Philadelphia Democrat, said he is concerned that the legislation would expedite credit to gamblers and would give Foxwoods Casino more time to construct its planned facility on the Delaware River.
The addition of table games is expected to raise $320 million over two years through a taxes and licensing fees.
Licensing fees would range from $7.5 million to $16.5 million depending on the size and type of casino.
Casinos would pay a 14 percent state tax and 2 percent local tax in the first two years. In 2011, the state tax rate would drop to 12 percent.
In Allegheny County, most of the local share would be earmarked for libraries. A smaller portion would go toward enhancing economic development and tourism in and around Monroeville.
Critics say the legislation includes too many favors for casino owners and that it improperly steers revenue to certain lawmakers' pet projects
If the House refuses to concur in the Senate amendments, a conference committee could be convened to hash out differences.
Correction/Clarification: (Published Dec. 18, 2009) The state House gave final approval to funds for state-related universities on Dec. 14, 2009 and sent the bill to Gov. Ed Rendell, who signed it Dec. 17, 2009. This story as originally published Dec. 17, 2009 was incorrect about the status of the legislation.
First Published December 17, 2009 12:00 am