Making the News

Philadelphia Inquirer

Originally Published:Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The last six months of table talk

By Suzette Parmley
Philadelphia Inquirer

In a span of six months, the addition of gambling beyond just slot machines in Pennsylvania's casinos went from a flicker of a notion to a budget-making imperative driven by Gov. Rendell himself.

Here is a recap of the journey to table games, in the words of the players at the heart of the debate.   - 

June 2, 2009: "I really feel I have more wind behind my back this time. Revenues are down, taxes are not bringing in as much." - State Rep. William DeWeese (D., Greene), the House majority whip, on his push for the second year in a row to legalize table games at Pennsylvania casinos.

June 2, 2009: "The governor will consider all the options available to him to close the budget gap, but again, he believes it is too soon to consider the expansion of gaming to table games." - Former Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo.

June 2, 2009: "What we are creating are more welfare clients, because they are taking their money and hoping they will strike it rich." - State Rep. Paul Clymer (R., Bucks).

June 9, 2009: "Maybe." - Rendell, during the grand opening of the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem when pressed by a reporter about the possibility of the state adding table games.

June 16, 2009: "I don't think it brings in enough revenue to make a difference." - Rendell, regarding House Bill 21, legislation introduced by DeWeese to raise $200 million to $300 million in tax revenue by offering table games at the state's casinos.

June 16, 2009: "This is not a legitimate way to balance the budget." - Clymer.

June 24, 2009: "If a bill legalizing table games reaches the governor's desk, he will certainly look at it carefully in making a decision based on the facts." - Ardo.

June 24, 2009: "The momentum has ratcheted up." - House Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Dante Santoni (D., Berks).

Sept. 17, 2009: "Table games have the potential to boost gambling revenue by about 25 percent in Pennsylvania." - Joseph Weinert of Spectrum Gaming Group L.L.C., of Linwood, N.J.

Oct. 9, 2009: "I think that table games is slightly premature for Pennsylvania. But given the financial exigencies, and given the reluctance of the legislature to do any broad-base tax, table games were almost a necessity." - Rendell, after signing a $27.8 billion budget bill.

Oct. 9, 2009: "Rushed through on Day 100-plus, largely at the behest of the casino industry." - Helen Gym of Asian Americans United.

Oct. 9, 2009: "The passage of [a table-games bill] starts the clock. This is big." - Don Shiffer, a lawyer representing Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Poconos.

Oct. 9, 2009: "Now I won't have to drive 70 miles to play poker." - Atlantic City regular Don Maurer, 75, of Philadelphia's Overbrook section, after Rendell signed a budget that included revenue from table games.

Oct. 19, 2009: "We don't want to kill the golden goose here." - Rendell, on why the tax rate on table games has to be at least 16 percent and each casino has to pay an up-front license fee of $15 million. (It has since changed to $16.5 million for large casinos and $7.5 million for casino resort licenses.)

Nov. 3, 2009: "We respectfully request that all reasonable and appropriate measures be taken to finalize the budget and the appropriations of Pennsylvania's state-related universities in order to minimize the financial harm and uncertainty impacting our students and their families." - The presidents of Temple, Pennsylvania State and Lincoln Universities, and the chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, in a letter to House Speaker Keith McCall (D., Carbon). The schools were waiting for $688.4 million in state funding that was contingent upon the legislature and the governor reaching agreement on a table-games bill.

Nov. 3, 2009: "This bill needs to be done right the first time, and, like a college education, cannot be rushed without potentially causing more harm than good to the future." - House Speaker Keith McCall (D., Carbon) in response to a letter signed by the university presidents and chancellor.

Nov. 4, 2009: "He wants to get it done quickly." - Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma.

Dec. 16, 2009: "The consequences are dire if we don't pass this. - Rendell.

Dec. 22, 2009: "Nil." - Rendell, when asked what the chances were of the legislature passing a table-games bill as a three-month impasse between the House and Senate over key details of the legislation goes unresolved.

Jan. 4, 2010: "I sincerely hope furloughs do not become necessary, but as I said last month, at this late date, I must create a plan to balance the budget if we cannot generate the revenue we anticipated." - Rendell, on the need to pass a table-games bill immediately.

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