Table games approved by state House, Senate

Written by Bill Toland on .

That's good news if you like black jack and roulette, and even better news (at least, on its face) for the regional labor force -- table games are labor intensive, and introducing them to Pennsylvania casinos will mean thousands of extra jobs for dealers:

"We're waiting for the state to say go so we can run as fast as we can to get us to the opening [for table games]," said David Patent, acting general manager for Rivers Casino.

The introduction of table games not only will generate more revenue for the state but could mean as many as 1,500 more casino-related jobs in Western Pennsylvania.

Mr. Patent said Rivers is planning to hire another 300 to 350 employees, including dealers, supervisors and managers, to staff about 80 games and provide support.

A statewide perspective: "The state House gave final approval last night to Senate Bill 711, which permits table games to be added to slots casinos at racetracks, such as The Meadows in Washington County, and stand-alone casinos, such as the Rivers in Pittsburgh, and two smaller, resort hotel casinos, which could include Nemacolin Woodlands in Fayette County if it gets lucky. The House vote -- 103 to 89 (with 11 members absent) -- followed Senate approval Tuesday night. The bill now goes to Gov. Ed Rendell, who is expected to sign it by week's end."

That could mean table games will be here by the summer.

... It all happened so fast.* Less than two years ago, legislators and the governor's office were predicting that there wouldn't be any table games during Ed Rendell's administration. But recessions and budget deficits have a way of forcing politicians to break their promises ("Read my lips: No new taxes"). Thanks to casinos, the governor has been largely able to avoid major tax increases over the last several years. With the governor's 2010-2011 budget address just around the corner -- which is weird, because the table games bill actually represents the final piece of the 2009-2010 budget -- it should be interesting to see if Rendell stands pat on taxes, or tries again, in is lame duck year, to squeeze some tax revenues out of cigar peddlers and natural gas drillers.

Either way, to the degree that they present an easy fix for state revenue problems, casinos have been maxxed out for the time being, and the next governor won't have the casino card in his back pocket. He could always approve additional casinos, I suppose, or higher gambling tax rates, but that's something the existing casino owners aren't going to be thrilled about. You can only visit this well so many times.

But that's not Ed Rendell's problem anymore, is it?

*So a snail is heading out for the evening. He is mugged by a gang of turtles. He calls the police -- when they arrive, they ask the slug what happened. He says, "I don't know. It happened so fast."

... the table games will give the state a one-time infusion of revenue, thanks to the one-time license fee that each casino will have to pay in order to receive a table games certificate, but will the games really create more state revenue in the long run? Or will the table games merely draw away from the slots play? This guy -- who happens to sell slot machines for a living -- thinks we'll actually see less tax revenue once table games are allowed:

"For Rich Orlando, the dawn of table games in Pennsylvania would be no winning hand. As the largest supplier of electronic table games to the state's nine casinos, Mr. Orlando sees the legalization of live poker, blackjack and roulette as a losing proposition for his business, TDN Money Systems of Aston, near Philadelphia. ... Mr. Orlando also believes the demise of electronic table games could end up costing the state money. He argues that the games -- in essence slot machines -- produce on average more revenue than will the live versions, which are more labor intensive and will have a far lower tax rate. By his own analysis, he estimates the state could lose out on tens of millions of dollars a year in making the switch."

... Morning Call: "Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, Rep. Mark Cohen, D-Philadelphia, said table games are the worst way to raise revenues ''except for all the other worst ways.' ''

... The Three Rivers Poker blog is getting excited: "Rivers is currently planning a 15 to 20-table poker room. That's a little small. (For comparison, Wheeling Island has 20 tables) I'm betting -- and hoping -- that number increases at some point. The Meadows, meanwhile, has said repeatedly that their poker room will feature 25 tables."

... David LeVan throws his hat in the ring -- again: :Gettysburg businessman David LeVan called the state's passage of casino table game regulations Wednesday 'good news for Adams County.' Overall, the bill aims to legalize games like black jack and roulette at state casinos, and reopen the gaming application process to groups like Mason Dixon Resort and Casino, led by LeVan and business partner Joseph Lashinger."

Dispatches from the border

"The courts may still weigh in, but Penn National Gaming is moving forward on one of two planned casino projects in Ohio. The Wyomissing, Pa.-based regional casino operator purchased a 44-acre site in East Toledo, Ohio for a planned $250 million casino. The site cost $2.5 million. Penn National plans to open the Hollywood Casino Toledo in the second half of 2012. Penn National also plans to put a casino in Columbus, Ohio."

... The casinos won't open for a few years in Ohio, but you can train for a dealer's job well before that, at a card-dealing school.

Dispatches from the border from the border

A domino effect in action: "A top Indiana state senator said Wednesday that his committee will consider legislation that would allow riverboat casinos on Lake Michigan and the Ohio River to move inland in hopes of staving off new competition from neighboring states. Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said Indiana's casinos deserve to be protected because they are fairly clean and well-regulated, employ 16,000 people, and bring in about $1.1 billion in annual state and local tax revenue."

Odds and ends

During the recession, lots of casinos brought back penny and nickel slots. The same strategy is being applied in the introduction of low-stakes, $2 blacljack at Atlantic City casinos ... Tropicana bankruptcy update ... A nice look at casino performances across Pennsylvania ... Vegas is still hurting, with some well-known casinos offering rooms at less than $50 a night.

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