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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

Poker and Table Games Legalized by Pennsylvania Legislature

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At the insistence of Governor Ed Rendell and the popular demand of the people of the state, Pennsylvania’s legislature has passed a law legalizing poker and other table games at casinos. The revenue is sorely needed by the state, as is the opportunity to attract more jobs and tourists, and it was these factors that ultimately pushed the state legislature to pass the measure on Wednesday, January 6, 2010.

The bill didn’t skate through passage without its difficulties. Rendell pushed the legislation for months before the House eventually tweaked it enough to ensure a narrow passage on December 15. And when it went to the Senate, more changes were required. Though the Senate did pass the bill, the modifications presented challenges to the House being able to pass the amended version. As members of the legislature left for their holiday recess, the bill was left with many questions and no sure outcome in its future.

Some of the issues at the core of the bill’s delay included the Senate’s removal of a provision that would have allowed up to 15 resort casino licenses to be awarded, meaning that more casinos wouldn’t be built in legislators’ districts that were seeking some of that proposed revenue. Another issue was the Senate’s decision to make non-profit organizations the benefactor of some of the revenue from the gaming instead of allowing it all to go to cities and school districts. But when the state’s representatives returned from their recess, they didn’t spend long debating the issues and were able to find common ground within only a few days. They passed the bill by a 103 to 89 margin.

As it stands, the bill will allow Pennsylvania’s 14 casinos to establish and run table games, such as poker, roulette, and blackjack, which are estimated to generate as much as $250 million in revenue. Each casino will purchase a license at the price of $16.5 million for large establishments and $7.5 million for resort casinos, which will present immediate funds for the state. Of that revenue, a total of $3 million would be allocated for the treatment of people with compulsive gambling and substance abuse problems. Additional money for the state will come from higher licensing fees to be paid by racetrack casinos and a rerouting of some casino revenue to institutions like hospitals and community colleges most hard hit by recent state budget cuts.

In addition, the passage of the legislation will allow Rendell to balance the Pennsylvania budget, which has remained untouched for months in anticipation of this bill to account for much-needed revenue. Rendell urged its passage because of said revenue and the additional 10,000 jobs that would be created as a result, and he threatened that state employees would be among the 1,000 people who would be laid off if casinos were not expanded to generate money for the state.

After the legislative victory, House Democratic Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Dante Santoni said, “This is a common sense, bipartisan piece of legislation that makes our gaming facilities more competitive, improves the public’s confidence in gaming, raises money we desperately need in these tough financial times, and -- most importantly -- helps put thousands of people to work in a brand-new industry.”

Rendell is expected to sign the bill in the coming days.

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