House approves table games bill

    The bill that would legalize card and dice games in Delaware now heads to the Senate, but not before some angry debate.

    In casino gambling the odds always favor the house.

    That was the case again Thursday night at Legislative Hall in Dover as House lawmakers approved a bill that would add table games such as craps, black jack and poker to Delaware’s three existing casinos.

    But it was close.

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    In this case, the so-called House advantage was only two votes. Even though the House of Representatives passed the measure by a seemingly wide margin of 27-5 — 25 votes were needed.

    “I’ve said all along that the General Assembly’s intent was to move table games and we just got it past the first leg,” said Rep. Peter Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth).

    Meantime, a separate bill aimed at preventing cheating on table games has made its way through the Senate.

    The House and Senate are expected to swap bills next week.

    Schwartzkopf, the House bill’s primary sponsor, hopes both measures will be approved and signed by the governor by the end of the month.

    Why the rush?

    Since Pennsylvania has already authorized table games, Schwartzkopf says the legislation needs to be approved before legislators go on a six-week break, starting in February.

    “If we don’t pass this in both chambers by Jan. 30th we are missing out on six weeks and that six weeks will put us behind Pennsylvania,” Schwartzkopf said. “If we get this passed then we have a window where we can be up and running before Pennsylvania.”

    While the discussion on the House floor regarding the bill was relatively mild, there was some heated debate surrounding some of its proposed amendments.

    Rep. James Johnson (D-District 16) called an amendment aimed at barring state legislators and their family members from holding any of the 40 state positions created by the measure “arbitrary, capricious and bogus.”

    “I don’t think that just because you are a State Representative or a Senator or any type of legislator that your family should be penalized,” Johnson said. “I think they should be judged on their qualifications and their character.”

    The amendment was easily defeated, but a later version did succeed in barring just lawmakers from these newly-created positions.

    “I understand transparency in government,” Schwartzkopf said. “What I don’t agree with is the natural assumption that we’re all crooked and that we have to put these things in place to tell everybody that we’re not crooked.”

    Another failed amendment would have altered the proposed revenue split, giving more money to the state if revenues exceeded expectations.

     As it stands now, Delaware’s three casinos would receive 66 percent of the table games revenue compared to 29 percent for the state.

    Officials estimate that the state would net about $40 million in additional revenue in the first year.

    Still, some House lawmakers said, no thanks.

    “It’s not a personal, philosophical or moral objection to gambling,” said Rep. Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley). “It’s a personal, philosophical objection to monopolies. This isn’t an industry that I believe needs to be a monopoly.

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