Pennsylvania legalized poker, blackjack, and other table games at slots casinos Jan. 7, upping the ante in the increasingly fierce competition among states for gamblers' money.
Gov. Ed Rendell, whose signature was the last step in the protracted process of passing the law, said he had misgivings about expanded gambling, partly because not all of the 14 casinos authorized by the 2004 law that legalized slot machine gambling are up and running.
It may be more than six months before the first cards are dealt, but millions in license fees are expected to begin pouring into the state treasury much sooner. Under Pennsylvania law, 14 casinos have been authorized—seven of them at racetracks, including the state's two Thoroughbred tracks, Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack and Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, which are expected to get table games at some point.
The table games bill was a critical component of the October deal that ended Pennsylvania's 101-day budget stalemate, and came about largely because other means of raising tax revenues proved politically unpalatable. The new law is the latest attempt by recession-slammed state governments to fill budgetary holes with gambling revenue.
Across the Delaware River, in New York, developers, politicians and casino supporters have been struggling since 1995 to bring casinos to the Catskills.
The New York state Legislature OK'd a gambling bill in 2001 to allow up to six new Indian-owned casinos in the Catskills and Buffalo region, video slot machines at horse-racing tracks, including Monticello, in Sullivan County, and multistate lotteries.
Then-New York Gov. George Pataki, in 2004, pushed for five casinos in the Catskills, and Mighty M Gaming opened with 1,800 video terminals at the Monticello track.
“Pennsylvania adds to their already existing competitive advantages by rolling out table games at their casinos — which will intensify competition,” said Charles Degliomini, executive vice president of Empire Resorts, which owns Monticello Gaming and Racing.
“Although we have just launched a new and extensive advertising campaign designed to retain and attract customers, it will not completely off-set the additional business Pennsylvania may acquire from our existing market by now offering a major attraction like live table games,” Degliomini said. “We will continue to compete for market share, but in order to be competitive, there is no doubt we need to be able to provide our customers the same product and gaming experience that exists in Pennsylvania.”
Doug Harbach, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, said casino companies will likely expand their nongambling offerings. “Pennsylvania's going to keep a significant amount of revenue in the state that was escaping,” he said.
Rendell said that even with the influx of gambling money, additional cuts to programs and the state work force remain a possibility for the fiscal year ending June 30.