Making the News

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

Originally Published:Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Joe Weinert, senior vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group, said table games also are more expensive to regulate and monitor.

“You're dealing with a lot more interaction” between casino employees and players, he said.

Spectrum was contracted to write the regulations that brought table games to West Virginia casinos in December. Weinert agreed that because of the higher cost to operate them, table games must be taxed at a lower rate than slot machines.

“They cannot tax table games at 56.5 percent,” Weinert said. “No operator would take that bet.”

Table game plan gaining legs?

By Ron Bartizek
Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

PLAINS TWP. - Table games at Pennsylvania casinos may not be a sure thing, but Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs is ready to offer them quickly if they become legalized.

The state House Gaming Oversight Committee has scheduled a public hearing Thursday on legislation that would allow live table games at Pennsylvania casinos. While the hearing may be only the first step in what some observers think is an inevitable march toward approval, Pocono Downs chief executive Bobby Soper said the permanent gambling hall that will open this summer was planned to accommodate blackjack, poker, roulette and other games.

"We designed the facility with table games in mind for the future," Soper said Tuesday.

Soper will testify at the 10 a.m. hearing, and he'll tell committee members that table games will boost business - and with it the state's take - but the proposed tax rate of approximately 30 percent is too high.

"I think it's a little onerous," Soper said. "Thirty percent would make it difficult to generate a reasonable return."

Even the bill's sponsor acknowledges that passage could be a long time coming. But House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, wants the proposal he introduced in July and purposely numbered 2121 to advance the discussion.

"From Day 1 he supported having table games," said Tom Andrews, DeWeese's press secretary. "He's just trying to start the conversation" to show that this is a way to generate more money to reduce property taxes further.

While only seven of a potential 14 casinos have opened, the state recently authorized the use of more than $600 million for the first round of tax rebates to property owners. State Rep. Eddie Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, a bill co-sponsor, said casino taxes also allowed an expansion of the rent rebate program for low-income state residents.

The 228-page legislation also is supported by local Reps. Todd Eachus, D-Butler Township, and Jim Wansacz, D-Old Forge. It would legalize roulette, blackjack, craps, poker and other games played with cards, dice, tile or dominos.

While Pashinski said he respects the opinions of gambling opponents, he's taking a pragmatic stance.

"It's a part of reality. We might as well keep the Pennsylvania money in Pennsylvania," he said, adding table games also would draw gamblers from nearby states.

In addition to taxes, casino owners would pay an initial $10 million license fee and a $500,000 annual renewal fee for the privilege of offering the games.

Table games also would require casinos to hire hundreds more employees.

"There's significantly more labor involved," Soper said, estimating that an additional 600-700 employees would be needed to serve gamblers at 75 games. That's about equal to the number of employees now working at the interim casino with its 1,200 slot machines.

Soper said if the games were authorized, he would recruit and train employees while an addition to the casino was being constructed. It takes 10-12 weeks to train table games workers, he said, and the operation could be up and running in four to six months.

Joe Weinert, senior vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group, said table games also are more expensive to regulate and monitor.

"You're dealing with a lot more interaction" between casino employees and players, he said.

Spectrum was contracted to write the regulations that brought table games to West Virginia casinos in December. Weinert agreed that because of the higher cost to operate them, table games must be taxed at a lower rate than slot machines.

"They cannot tax table games at 56.5 percent," Weinert said. "No operator would take that bet."

West Virginia casinos' table games revenue is taxed at 35 percent, plus a $2.5 million annual license fee.

Andrews expects that additional hearings will be held around the state.

WHAT'S NEXT

The House Gaming Oversight Committee has scheduled a public hearing on House Bill 2121, which would authorize Pennsylvania casinos to offer table games, on Thursday at 10 a.m. in Room 205 of the Ryan Office Building, adjacent to the State Capitol.

 

In addition to taxes, casino owners would pay an initial $10 million license fee and a $500,000 annual renewal fee for the privilege of offering the games.

Ron Bartizek, Times Leader business editor, may be reached at 970-7157.

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