DOVER, Del. (AP) - A bill authorizing private gambling clubs for the wealthy took more spins than a roulette wheel Wednesday before winding up right where it began the day, in a House committee.
The legislation would establish a limited lottery license under which a private club with no more than 5,000 members and a minimum membership fee of $10,000 could offer table games and sports betting, but not slot machines.
The measure is opposed by the state's three existing slot machine and sports betting casinos, which also have exclusive rights to begin offering table games, which are expected to be up and running within the next few weeks.
The bill, introduced Tuesday by Rep. John Viola , D-Newark, was prompted by a development group's plan for an exclusive private club called The Bank in downtown Wilmington that would cater to wealthy members from New York, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.
"The concept we're proposing is new. Nothing else like it exists in the United States," said Karl Agne of Delaware Development Associates, the group proposing to renovate a vacant four-story bank building on Market Street in Wilmington.
Agne said that with a membership fee and yearly dues, and no freebies or "comps" for members, the club would be more like a country club than a casino or one of the private gambling clubs that can be found in Europe.
House Gaming and Pari-mutuels Committee had enough signatures to release the bill, but Viola decided to place it back in committee for further discussion.
Project backers said that, in addition to one-time license fee of $1 million, the state would receive an estimated $2 million annually in gambling revenue, and millions more in taxes from non-gaming operations, including a restaurant run by award-winning chef Michael White that would be open to the public.
But Bill Fasy, president of Delaware Park, said the gambling market in the Northeast is already saturated and that new casinos would take high-end customers away from his horse racing casino in Stanton.
"With the additional saturation, it will only have negative impact on the industry," said Fasy.
House Majority Leader Pete Schwartzkopf said he found Fasy's concerns about market saturation puzzling, given that Fasy is investing in a casino near Ocean City, Md., just across the Delaware border.
"I think it's amusing and hypocritical," said Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth.
Fasy and other critics also noted that the existing casinos will pay 29.4 percent of their gross table game revenue to the state, while the private club would pay only 6.75 percent. Opponents also complained that the horse racing industry would not receive any revenue from the gaming club, as it does from the casinos.
"To me, this and a racino is apples and oranges," Viola said when asked about the different tax rates. He nevertheless said he would be open to giving the horse racing industry a share in revenue from the gaming club.