Pennsylvania lawmakers OK table games for casinos

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Pennsylvania lawmakers on Wednesday completed passage of a bill to legalize games like poker and blackjack at casinos in a move to generate $250 million in revenue and balance the state’s budget.

The state House of Representatives voted 103 to 89 in favor of the bill that would allow table games at Pennsylvania’s 14 licensed casinos, where gaming is currently limited to slot machines.

The new games would compete for customers with New Jersey’s Atlantic City resorts, which have been sideswiped by the recession.

The Pennsylvania measure was approved by the Senate on Tuesday by 28 to 22, and will now go to Democratic Governor Ed Rendell for signature.

“We view this is as a win for Pennsylvania taxpayers,” said Brett Marcy, a spokesman for House Democratic majority leader Todd Eachus. “This was something that needed to be done to balance the budget gap, and it will create thousands of jobs for Pennsylvania.”

House Democratic Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Dante Santoni, D-Berks, 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, a Democrat, had threatened to lay off almost 1,000 state employees if lawmakers didn’t pass the measure by Friday. Without the new gaming revenue, the 2009/10 budget -- earlier subject to a 101-day deadlock after the July 1 start of the fiscal year -- would remain out of balance.

The new law will allow large casinos to have 250 tables and resorts to have 50. Licenses would cost $16.5 million at large casinos and $7.5 million at resort casinos. The bill also provides $3 million for treating compulsive gambling and substance abuse.

Rendell is scheduled to deliver his fiscal 2010/11 budget on February 9.

Editing by Andrew Hay