Hope you're sitting down for this one, but the casino operators in Pennsylvania -- the ones who, by law, are restricted to offering only slot machines (but not table games) at their casinos, and the same ones who have just learned that Gov. Ed Rendell now wants bars and social clubs to be allowed to operate paying video slot machines -- now say they want to be able to offer table games in addition to slots:
Yes to table games at state casinos, but no to video poker machines in thousands of bars and clubs statewide. That was the view today of Timothy Wilmott, president of Penn National Gaming Inc., which runs a racetrack/casino 20 miles northeast of here plus several other casinos in other states.
Two other casino executives -- from the Pittsburgh area -- agreed about bringing table games to Pennsylvania casinos but wouldn't comment on Gov. Ed Rendell's controversial plan to allow 80,000 or so video poker machines in bars and taverns across the state.
Ed Fasulo, president of the Rivers Casino, which will open in Pittsburgh in August, and Mike Graninger, general manager of The Meadows, which will open its enlarged, permanent casino in April, said table games would increase employment and the state's income tax base. But they tactfully sidestepped commenting on Mr. Rendell's idea for video poker to raise tuition relief for college students.
All three of them spoke Tuesday at Spectrum Gaming Group's annual Pennsylvania Gaming Congress and Mid-Atlantic Racing Forum in Harrisburg. State legislators attended the same conference:
Democratic Rep. Tim Solobay sat right next to Republican Rep. Curt Schroder yesterday at a forum on possible expansion of gambling in Pennsylvania, but they couldn't have been farther apart on whether Pennsylvania casinos should add table games.
Mr. Solobay noted that his Washington County district "is close to West Virginia," where casinos already have games like blackjack, roulette, poker and baccarat. ... Mr. Schroder, from Chester County, [said] it's too soon to be talking about a major expansion of gambling, when only seven of the 14 slots casinos authorized by a July 2004 law are operating.
... More from the conference, via state Rep. Sam Smith.
Around the state
"Representatives of The Meadows Racetrack & Casino and the Australian firm trying to buy it insisted yesterday that they want to complete the deal, despite efforts to back out by a part-owner of the foreign company. A spokesman for The Meadows stressed, meanwhile, that the dispute holding up the sale will not affect the planned opening in April of the Washington County racetrack's permanent casino. It is to more than double its size, which will give it about 3,800 slot machines."
What's the dispute? Bloomberg explains:
A $1.75 billion U.S. casino buyout by Crown Ltd., the Australian company controlled by billionaire James Packer, prompted a lawsuit by his sister that seeks to keep family trust information private. Crown said in December 2007 it would buy Cannery Casino Resorts LLC, co-owned by Millennium Gaming Inc. of Las Vegas and Oaktree Capital Management of Los Angeles, to acquire three Nevada casinos and The Meadows Racetrack and Casino south of Pittsburgh.
"It turns out that the approval process in Pennsylvania, but not in Nevada, required licensing applications to be made by the trusts and Gretel Packer as a beneficiary," Gretel Packer said in a lawsuit filed today in Delaware Chancery Court in Wilmington. She said she doesn't want to release financial information.
... From wire reports: "The state Supreme Court yesterday ordered the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate possible grand jury leaks in the case of a Poconos casino owner charged with perjury. Lawyers for Louis A. DeNaples had subpoenaed 15 reporters from six news organizations seeking to learn the sources of articles describing the deliberations of a Dauphin County grand jury that indicted Mr. DeNaples in January 2008. A county judge threw out the subpoenas in July."
... The casino industry, like most other American industries, is suffering right now, but Wall Street is bullish on the Pennsylvania segment of the market:
"Alex Picou, managing director of Gaming, Travel and Leisure for KeyBanc Capital Markets, said if he were opening a casino today, he'd rather be in Pennsylvania than any other market in the Mid-Atlantic. [And] David B. Katz, executive director of Oppenheimer & Co., said Pennsylvania does better as a high tax state because it has a roster of seasoned operators such as Penn National Gaming Inc., Harrah's and Mohegan Sun. Penn National operates the Hollywood Casino at its racetrack in Grantville."
... Penn National racetrack near Harrisburg, which once offered the lowest thoroughbred purses of any track in the mid-Atlantic, is becoming more generous, thanks to slots money.
The Lone Star State
The big buzz within the casino industry is that Texas, second most-populous state in the country, is about to dip its cowboy boots into the pool:
State lawmakers from Houston, Dallas and San Antonio - plus the head of the House budget-writing committee - on Tuesday launched a fresh push for Las Vegas-style destination resort casinos in Texas. Slot machines also would be allowed at the state's existing race tracks under the proposal by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas; Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie. In addition, the three federally recognized Indian tribes could operate a casino on their tribal lands.
"Texans already are voting with their feet and going out of state" to gamble, Ellis said. Menendez noted that Texas is "surrounded by gaming." Opposition immediately arose from conservative and Christian groups and a racetrack group pushing more narrowly for slot machines at tracks. Backers of Joint Resolution 31 and Senate Bill 1084, the broad gambling legislation, said their proposal would bring in at least $3 billion a year in new state and local revenue.
Up to 12 casinos would be allowed statewide, including two in Dallas county.
Odds and ends
"The US Supreme Court has delivered a crippling setback yesterday to the Mashpee Wampanoag in Massachusetts and many other tribes across the nation that are seeking to build casinos, ruling that the federal government cannot place land into trust for newly recognized tribes." ... The decision has ramifications across the country, including in Michigan ... Boyd Gaming may try to buy Station Casinos ... Crown is still rolling "the Pennsylvania dice" (see the earlier blurb about The Meadows) ... Casino foes in Philadelphia just won't give up the ghost:
"Several large church groups stepped up their opposition [last week] to a slots parlor in Center City, joining an anti-casino protest outside the Philadelphia offices of Gov. Rendell. About 50 people, including the head of the influential Black Clergy of Philadelphia, chanted "No slots" and held up anti-casino signs in English and Chinese at the Bellevue building at Broad and Walnut Streets, which is also the headquarters of the real estate trust that owns the Gallery mall."