DOVER, Delaware — A state House committee on Wednesday tabled a proposal authorizing two more casinos in Delaware amid opposition from the state's three existing casinos and questions about the requirements for new ones.
The bill's sponsor, Democratic Rep. Dennis Williams of Wilmington, was among those voting to table the measure, but he said he's confident he can get enough fellow members of the House Gaming and Parimutuels Committee to support it.
The bill is similar to one sponsored by Williams that died two years ago amid opposition from the three existing racetrack casinos. Representatives of the existing casinos again are arguing that more casinos will just hurt them financially.
"We are currently in financial distress, there's no doubt about it," said Ed Sutor, president and CEO of Dover Downs.
Sutor said competition from casinos in neighboring Maryland and Pennsylvania has hurt Delaware's casinos.
"I seriously can't think of a worse time to consider bringing additional competition to this state," he said.
But Williams said Delaware's existing casinos will face competition whether they like it or not. If that competition is restricted to other states, Delaware will see no benefit in terms of additional jobs or revenue, he said.
"Do we yield to a well-funded campaign from the existing monopolies, or do we allow more in-state competition?" he asked.
Williams also rejected the notion that the gambling market in the mid-Atlantic region is, in Sutor's words "supersaturated." If developers thought they couldn't make money by building casinos in Delaware, they wouldn't be trying to do so, Williams said.
The committee tabled the bill after Rep. Michael Ramone, a Newark Republican, suggested that it needs more specific language regarding requirements the new casinos would have to meet. Ramone said he wants to see more information regarding licensing fees for the new casinos, whether they would have to make minimum capital investments, where they would be located, and whether they would have to use a certain number of Delaware workers for construction.
"I want to see what the numbers are going to look like," Ramone said.
Williams argues that two new "destination casinos" would bring in more revenue to the state's general fund and provide more purse money for horse owners who race at the existing tracks. He also suggested that revenue from the new casinos could allow the tax rate on existing casinos, a constant sore spot for them, to be cut.
Under Williams' proposal, the location and operators of the new casinos would be chosen by a commission of nine members appointed by the governor, Senate leader and House speaker.
Williams said Gov. Jack Markell likes his proposal, but a statement issued by Markell's spokeswoman was less definitive.
"The governor always looks forward to discussing proposals with the sponsors and supporters to understand how proposals might add to the state's revenue and economy," Cathy Rossi said.