Delaware clears another hurdle in the race to get table games up and running before Pennsylvania. But key votes in the House and Senate remain.
Gamblers in Delaware are another step closer to playing games like poker, craps and black jack in front of live dealers.
A House committee on Wednesday voted to release a bill that would authorize those and other table games at the state’s three existing casinos.
It paves the way for a vote in the House of Representatives, scheduled for Thursday.
A state Senate committee, meantime, released a separate bill aimed at preventing cheating on table games.
Those in favor of the measure say it’s in the state’s best interest to get the bills passed by both houses and signed by the Governor before the end of January and a scheduled six-week break in the legislative session.
To keep pace with neighboring Pennsylvania, which just recently authorized table games, Rep. John Viola (D-Newark) says Delaware can’t afford to get six weeks behind in the race to put table games in front of casino customers.
“I think that we are a small enough state that we can do it right and that we can be up and running before Pennsylvania,” Viola said. “I think it’s absolutely key to get both pieces of legislation passed before we go to break.”
It’s estimated table games would generate $40 million for Delaware, based on a split of 66 percent of the gambling revenue going to the casinos and 29 percent to the state. About 4.5 percent would go to the horsemen.
Those are figures casino officials say they can live with. After all, racino leaders, along with members of the legislature and the Governor’s administration were part of the process of writing the bill.
“We had hoped for a better deal but it is what we agreed to and we will accept it,” said Ed Sutor, President of Dover Downs Hotel and Casino. “Some day down the road when things get better perhaps we can revisit the rates but for the time being we are absolutely acceptable to what was in the bill.”
One of the bill’s sponsors, however, thinks the racinos will get too much money.
“It’s a bill that’s a good public policy for us,” said Rep. Deborah Hudson (R-Fairthorne). “We already have gaming, so changing to be more advanced is probably a good move for Delaware. I just want to see that taxpayers get some revenue from this and that it just doesn’t make the casinos themselves bigger business.”
Hudson says she will vote to support the bill when it goes to the House floor. But another member of the House Gaming and Parimutuels Committee says he is against it.
“I will probably vote no on the bill,” said Rep. Biff Lee (R-Laurel). “I am just not for using gambling money to settle state debts.”
If the bills are signed before the February break, table games like craps and black jack could be available in Delaware casinos in about six months.
Sutor says poker could be ready even sooner, perhaps as quickly as four months.
“The industry is ready to go,” he said.