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Tables arrive for installation at casinos

It's a bit like a Hollywood set these days on the gaming floor of Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack: frenetic activity behind the scenes, and lots of anticipating the blockbuster ahead.

It's a bit like a Hollywood set these days on the gaming floor of Harrah's Chester Casino & Racetrack: frenetic activity behind the scenes, and lots of anticipating the blockbuster ahead.

A banner draped from one end of the space to the other is the tease that tells it all: "Coming Soon! Your New Live Table Games Experience. Thank You for Your Patience."

"Everyone is extremely excited," Bob Guidice, vice president of table games for Harrah's Chester, said as he helped unload equipment with the casino's warehouse team Monday. Three delivery trucks from Las Vegas had arrived, laden with 14 blackjack tables each. Forty-four more tables, including those for craps and roulette, and 25 poker tables will be delivered in the next two weeks.

Expected soon at Harrah's Chester and every other gambling hall in the state is regulatory approval from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board - the "final green light," as casino operators call it - to begin offering blackjack, baccarat, pai gow, and more.

"The board continues to work internally and with the casinos on a goal to implement table games soon after the July Fourth holiday," gaming board spokesman Doug Harbach said Monday. "It is anticipated that, combined, they will offer almost 700 tables of banked and non-banked games."

To oversee the new attractions, the gaming board has hired additional on-site regulators.

So far, 10 Pennsylvania casinos have paid the $16.5 million fee to put table games in play: Harrah's Chester; Parx in Bensalem; Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre; Hollywood Casino near Harrisburg; Presque Isle Downs in Erie; Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Poconos; the Sands in Bethlehem; the Rivers in Pittsburgh; The Meadows, 15 miles south of Pittsburgh; and the SugarHouse, currently under construction on the Philadelphia waterfront.

Over the next week, The Meadows will have all 68 of its table games delivered, said casino spokesman David La Torre. On Friday, its 302 dealer trainees will graduate.

Tuesday morning, 72 table games, including 44 blackjack tables, are scheduled for delivery to Mount Airy.

Vince Donlevie, Harrah's Chester senior vice president and general manager, said about 500 new dealers are wrapping up their remaining weeks of training. Still being hired are supervisory positions - people with at least two years of table games' experience.

"The key is that we are not behind any competitors in the Philly region," Donlevie said. "We want to be the first to market so folks that have the proclivity to play table games don't have the need to go anywhere else to experience that.

"The [Gaming Control] board is doing its best to have casinos in the same region go online during the same week," he said.

Meaning that Harrahs' Chester and Parx, both in the Philadelphia suburbs, will debut their table games at the same time, as will The Meadows and the Rivers in the Pittsburgh area, to prevent one casino from having an unfair advantage over a direct competitor.

Table games can open on the same day at three casinos in a region, the gaming board said.

To get game-ready, about 150 dealers at Harrah's Chester Dealer Training Academy were putting in another four-hour session Monday, honing their skills on real table games in a former storage room on the sixth floor.

There are five sessions like this a day, four days a week.

Perusing the tables, trainer Bobby Cusato, 31, a table games manager at the Harrah's-owned Showboat casino in Atlantic City, said: "Our goal is to have everyone trained and to pass their audition. We want to make sure that once they hit the floor, they have the technical skill for table games, as well as the customer-service skills."

Meanwhile, down on the casino floor, workers cut metal for a new noodle bar. Others retrofit decorative fins on the ceiling to house and conceal new surveillance cameras.

All to be ready for the big premiere.