A critical part of the Pennsylvania budget deal finally looks to be in place. Last night, the State House passed a bill that would allow table games in Pennsylvania casinos. The vote had been delayed repeatedly, since many lawmakers wanted more time to understand the legislation.

By a 97-95 vote last night, the House passed a sweeping, 649-page bill that includes gambling changes, sets rates for taxing and licensing, and - in a move that stunned a number of lawmakers - sets aside a percentage of local gambling revenue for hospitals, community colleges, and libraries. Most Democrats voted for the bill; most Republicans voted against.

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It establishes a onetime $16.5 million licensing fee for racetrack casinos, and sets the initial tax rate at 16 percent (14 percent to the state, 1 percent each to the counties and municipalities where casinos are located), but reduces that amount to 14 percent (12 percent to the state) after 2011. Gov. Rendell has said he would not sign a table-games bill with a tax rate of less than 16 percent.

As you can see, the vote was far from unanimous. Many members of the Democratic caucus from Philadelphia are opposed to the expansion of gambling. They are joined by the more conservative elements of the legislature, who oppose gambling on moral grounds.

It's now up to the Pa. Senate to approve the proposal.

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