Gambling hearing draws hundreds

April 7, 2009
Gov. Jack Markell has proposed expanding gambling in Delaware, an idea that has prompted hundreds of demonstrators to gather around the state to support and to protest the initiative.

In an attempt to close what has become an $800 million budget shortfall next year, Markell suggested lawmakers reauthorize sports betting at the state’s three existing casinos. He also proposed adding sports betting at 10 other locations, including restaurants, taverns or taprooms. The governor’s proposal also calls for three new casinos. House Majority Leader Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, sponsored House Bill 100 and said he’s carrying the water for Markell, trying to push the measure through.

Meanwhile, Delaware’s casino owners have protested the proposal, saying gambling demand in Delaware cannot sustain more racinos.

“Casinos need to understand something needs to be done,” said Schwartzkopf, in defense of the bill. “The casinos have been unwilling to go out and discuss this yet. Now that the bills are out there, they’re going to have to. They might not like it, but with this bill out there, I think it will force them to the table.”

Opponents to the plan include the NCAA and NFL. The NCAA has said if lawmakers approve the sports-betting measure, they would not allow college playoff games in the state. Schwartzkopf took the threat in stride. “That’s between the governor and them. We’ll see what happens,” he said. Markell said he would challenge sports groups if they refuse to allow playoffs in Delaware.

H.B. 100 also calls for the state to take a larger cut of slot-machine revenue. Currently, racinos get 48 percent of net, while the state gets 36 percent.

Hundreds of protestors gathered Wednesday, April 1, at Legislative Hall to oppose the measure. Hundreds more are expected to gather at 11 a.m., Tuesday, April 7, in Dover when the House Gaming Committee will hold a fourth formal hearing. “We knew this was going to be an important issue for residents, and we wanted to give them every opportunity to have their voices heard,” said Rep. John Viola, D-Newark, chairman of the House Gaming Committee. “The public testimony we’ve collected will go a long way in helping us determine what is best for Delaware as we consider this piece of legislation.” The gaming committee is expected to vote on the bill following the hearing. Markell said he would like to sign the bill by Sunday, April 12, in order to allow sports betting in time for the football season.

House passes monthly rent bill

House Bill 107 gives tenants of manufactured homes the opportunity to pay their rent monthly instead of yearly. The measure, introduced by John Atkins, D-Millsboro, just two days after it was introduced passed in the House, Thursday, April 2, [with a 22-16 vote and three no votes]. It is now headed to the Senate.

Delaware Manufactured Home Owners Association (DMHOA) President Ed Speraw said he was disappointed by those opposed to the measure. Still, he said he was pleased the bill passed, especially in this economic climate with many tenants unable to pay their rent for an entire year all at once. “I think it shows the people who got elected know how they got elected and why they’re there,” said Speraw.

Atkins said 90 percent of his constituent calls came from manufactured home tenants living in the Tunnell-owned Pot-Nets parks that charge tenants yearly.

“In this kind of economy, in a month or two after Christmas and the New Year, I’ve found this to be a time when people are losing their mortgages and being foreclosed upon,” Atkins said.

Park owner Robbie Tunnell said he’s looking forward to tweaking the bill before it goes before the Senate for a vote. “We’ve been looking at implementing a policy recently that is somewhat similar to what H.B. 107 does,” Tunnell said.

In 2010, he said, Tunnell parks plan to offer monthly, quarterly, semiannual and annual payment options.

“H.B. 107 limits options to either monthly or annually,” Tunnell said. “It was fast-tracked through the House. There was no testimony from residents whom the bill affects,” he said.

Atkins, now a Democrat, changed parties and was re-elected last year. The former Republican said he would vote conservatively and on behalf of constituents.

Owners to remove fallen trees?

House Bill 105, also introduced by Atkins, requires park owners to remove fallen trees. In the past, Atkins said some homeowners had been charged for removing and cleaning up trees that fall near their homes. “House Bill 105 stems from the same constituent concerns residents have with their landlords,” Atkins said. DMHOA lobbyist Dixie Boucher said H.B. 105 is needed because of an unfair burden sometimes put on tenants. “When people move into a community and onto a lot, since they are the ones who didn’t finish the lot or put up the trees in the first place, why should they be responsible for the trees?” she said.

Boucher said the problem developed because community owners made the tenants responsible for trees even though the property belongs to park owners. The bill is currently in the House Manufactured Housing Committee.

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