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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

Pennsylvania Gambles With Poker and Table Games in Legislature

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Pennsylvania and poker have not had an illustrious history. Most recently, in August of 2009, a court case resulted in a 65-year old man being found guilty of hosting poker tournaments in 2007, and the judge refuted the argument that poker was a game of skill when rendering his decision. But the state has now decided to attempt passage of legislation that would create jobs and revenue by allowing table games, including poker, in Pennsylvania casinos.

The bill, which is currently in limbo between the House and Senate, seeks to allow poker, roulette, and other table games into Pennsylvania casinos, which would in turn create the demand for more casinos. The legislation also allows for racetrack casinos to pay higher licensing fees, tightened laws regarding political donations from casino interests, and more casino revenue dedicated to hospitals, community colleges, and libraries. However, it seems that licensing and taxation provisions in the legislation are continually changing and may prevent the bill from being passed by both houses of Congress to reach the desk of Governor Rendell for signature.

Initially, the proposal was encouraged by Rendell because of the much-needed revenue that table games and the subsequent casino expansions would bring to the cash-strapped state. Data showed that $250 million in revenue could be generated in addition to saving numerous jobs and creating approximately 10,000 new jobs, and Rendell pushed for legislation to be passed in July of 2009. Without such revenue, the current Pennsylvania budget remains unbalanced.

The House finally passed its version of the bill on Tuesday, December 15 by a thin margin. The bill then went to the Senate, but changes were made by the Democrats in order to ensure its passage. The approving vote of 27-22 was recorded, but the alterations to the legislation may make it difficult for the House to vote with another favorable outcome. One of the changes involved the Senate removing a provision to allow up to 15 resort casino licenses to be awarded, which would have allowed more of the Representatives to look forward to casinos and the subsequent revenue in their districts. Another change involved rerouting revenue from two casinos scheduled to be built from its original benefactor of the local cities and school districts to non-profit organizations, a modification not readily accepted by the House.

As the bill is scheduled to return to the House for approval, some are wary of its ability to pass again. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Todd Eachus said, “The bill was written in such a way so we could assure passage out of the House. Any substantive changes would jeopardize the bill, and these are substantive changes.”

House Democrats are looking to now put the legislation on hold until January of 2010 after the holiday recess, so that further discussions might bring enough members of the state legislature to agreement to ensure its passage. With other bills pending - funding for several state universities, for example - Rendell noted that those authorizations will not be made until the table games legislation arrives on his desk. In addition, Rendell noted that more state employees would receive layoff notices if the bill is not passed to save those jobs.

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