Deal close for Pennsylvania table games

Jan 6, 2010 9:50 PM


The governor of Pennsylvania declared the state legislature will draft legislation legalizing table games or else he would begin laying off state employees as soon as Friday.

State legislative leaders are back in session today with what appears to the basis for a long-sought agreement on a bill to legalize table games, the final piece of revenue needed to balance the governor’s 2009-10 budget.

Democratic leaders said yesterday that the Democrat-controlled House had "reached a consensus" with the Senate Republican leaders on the measure during a conference call yesterday.

Erik Arneson, a spokesman for Senate Republican leader Dominic Pileggi of Delaware County stopped short of saying there was a consensus but said that a bill could be approved in the next few days. "We are optimistic," he said.

The announcement came as Gov. Ed Rendell said he may be forced to lay off as many as 1,100 state employees if a deal wasn’t reached by Friday. He asked Cabinet members yesterday to develop a plan for layoffs, starting Friday if there is no agreement. Most of the layoffs would come from the state prison system and the Department of Public Welfare.

A key disagreement between House and Senate members was whether to add a third license for a resort casino. The 2004 slots law permitted two of these smaller casinos, which could have up to 500 slots and perhaps table games like blackjack, poker and roulette. One of the two existing licenses has been awarded.

The bill also would increase the number of slot machines a resort casino could operate to 600 from the current 500.

The Legislature approved a budget last fall that depended on $250 million in license fees and taxes from the legalization of table games at state casinos, which only have slot machines. The House and Senate have approved different versions of a table games bill, but had been unable to settle differences over the past six weeks.

Under the agreement forged yesterday, officials said, licensing fees would range from $7.5 million to $16.5 million depending on the size and type of the casino. Casinos would pay a 14 percent state tax and a 2 percent local tax in the first two years.