Making the News

Press of Atlantic City

Originally Published:Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pennsylvania House approves casino table games

By Staff writer Donald Wittkowski contributed to this report.
Press of Atlantic City

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s slots casinos hit the jackpot Wednesday when the Legislature gave them the authority to install table games such as poker and blackjack.

A 103-89 House vote sent the bill to Gov. Ed Rendell, whose staff said he would sign it, likely today.

Larger casinos will be allowed 250 tables for the new games, while the smaller resort casinos can have 50. State gambling regulators said it may be more than six months before table games are up and running.

Along with poker and blackjack, games such as craps, baccarat and roulette are permitted under the new law.

While table games will boost Pennsylvania’s slot parlors, the struggling Atlantic City casinos now will face even tougher competition in a weak economy that has customers cutting back on their spending for gambling trips.

Harvey Perkins, a senior vice president with the Linwood-based casino consulting firm Spectrum Gaming Group, predicted Atlantic City will suffer a double-digit drop in table game revenue beginning in 2011. He said Atlantic City’s revenue decline should be in the single digits for 2010, only because it will probably take Pennsylvania most of the year before table games are ready.

Like Pennsylvania, Delaware is preparing to introduce table games this year. Atlantic City will lose the monopoly it enjoyed on table games among the neighboring states. Connecticut and West Virginia are the closest states to New Jersey currently offering table games.

Perkins said Pennsylvania’s table games could be the catalyst for more Atlantic City-style nongaming amenities, such as upscale hotels, retail shops, restaurants and nightclubs.

He noted those kinds of attractions would pull even more customers to the Pennsylvania casinos, away from Atlantic City.

“With the addition of hotel rooms, fine dining outlets and entertainment, that would be an extra point of competition not only for gaming customers, but also for retail customers,” Perkins said.

Linda M. Kassekert, chair of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, also predicted Pennsylvania table games will have a negative effect on the Atlantic City market. She said the city will continue to lose the “convenience gamblers” in Pennsylvania who want to stay closer to home.

Kassekert asserted, however, that Pennsylvania will be unable to match Atlantic City’s array of resort-style attractions that tend to draw wealthier overnight guests.

“They may have a restaurant or two and some entertainment, but not what we offer here,” she said.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, Pennsylvania’s counterpart to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, said it should take six to nine months to complete the regulatory framework to get table games up and running.

“The challenge to oversee a managed expansion at Pennsylvania’s casinos from a regulatory perspective is now before us, and the Gaming Control Board is well-prepared,” Chairman Gregory C. Fajt said. “At the same time, no one should believe that implementing table games is as simple as turning on a spigot. We will move the process along as quickly as possible, but will not sacrifice thoroughness for speed.”

Pennsylvania lawmakers turned to table games for revenue to help settle last year’s protracted budget stalemate, but even after the 101-day impasse ended in October, the details had remained unresolved.

The extra money will help pay the state’s bills as the recession continues to ravage its tax collections.

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