2012-04-05 / Local & State

Valley Forge Casino Opens For Business Bill To Cut 50 Seats In Pa. House Nears First Vote

VALLEY FORGE, Pa. (AP) – Pennsylvania's 11th casino is open for business near the suburban Philadelphia area where George Washington's soldiers endured the bleak winter of 1777-78.

The $150 million Valley Forge Casino Resort opened early Saturday at a conference center just outside Valley Forge National Historical Park. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board gave the casino the final signoff after two test nights, board spokesman Doug Harbach said Friday.

Valley Forge is the first of the smaller “resort” casinos laid out in the 2004 law that legalized gambling in Pennsylvania, featuring 600 slot machines and 50 table games. The casino itself will be more selective, with gambling restricted to people attending a convention, meeting or private function there; people who spend a minimum of $10 in one of the resort's dining, nightlife or retail outlets; or anyone who purchases a resort membership.

“ The testing went smoothly,” Valley Forge Casino Resort President and CEO Saverio “Sal” R. Scheri said in a statement before the casino opened. “We cannot wait to open our doors to the public.”

The casino, which is part of a convention center not far from where Washington once camped with his Continental Army soldiers, also features amenities such as bars, restaurants, a nightclub and performance and banquet space. Officials say it will bring about 645 fulltime jobs.

“I like to play poker, so I plan to test it out,” John Sollenberger, 59, of Downingtown, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. He was among those who opted to spend the minimum to enter the casino, buying a mushroom burger for $10.60 at the food court and receiving a credit card-like access card good for one day.

He then passed through one of the electronic gateways to the casino floor, vowing to return and get a membership card if he enjoyed the experience.

“I think it’s well thought out,” Lois Cosentino, 68, of Havertown, told the newspaper as she sat next to her husband, Michael, 70, playing penny slots. “It’s smaller than I thought and more intimate than most casinos. But it's great locally. I would assume it will get people going to the mall and be a big boost to the two hotels.”

The state’s second “resort” license has been awarded to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort outside Pittsburgh, but one of the losing bidders for that license appealed to the state Supreme Court, and that license remains in limbo.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – The speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives said Friday that his bill to cut 50 seats from the chamber will be debated next week, a significant first step in the lengthy process of amending the state constitution.

Speaker Sam Smith, RJefferson, said his main objective is to improve communications and deliberations in the 203-member House.

“I think that members will have a better opportunity to understand – not necessarily agree with – but understand the other member's perspective,” Smith said.

He said cutting the chamber to 153 members would make it more efficient and give individuals a greater ability to influence decisions. It also may provide cost-savings.

The bill in its current form would not change the state Senate, which has 50 seats.

Critics have said it could increase the influence by campaign donors and lessen contact with constituents.

Smith said he was sympathetic to the argument that it would make rural districts even larger in size, possibly reducing the voice of rural Pennsylvanians.

“I used to subscribe to that,” he said. “My standard line is, ‘There's nothing magical about 203 and 50.”’

Amending the state constitution requires passage by the Legislature in two consecutive two-year sessions and approval by the state's voters.

The size of the General Assembly has changed repeatedly over its long history, with the current complement established by the 1968 Constitutional Convention.

House members currently represent an average of 63,000 people. That would expand to about 80,000 under Smith's proposal.

Smith said his bill could get a final House vote on Wednesday. The proposal has 76 co-sponsors.

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