(Pennsylvania gambling article updated with New Hampshire gaming study.)



) -- Pennsylvania took a step in expanding gambling in the state, a move that could ultimately prove windfall for

Penn National Gaming

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The House of Representatives voted in favor of the proposal, despite criticism that it is full of favors for casino owners and lawmakers' pet causes.

The measure would raise the state's number of casino licenses from 14 to 15 and legalize table games such as poker, blackjack and craps.

Two groups -- the owners of the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Fayette County and investors interested in a Gettysburg-area site -- expressed interest in a casino.

The bill is supposed to raise $320 million for the state over the first two fiscal years by setting a tax rate on gambling revenue from table games at 14% and requiring the casinos to pay millions of dollars in license fees.

Casinos also would have to pay an additional 2% tax to local governments, while the state's tax rate would fall to 12% after July 1, 2011.

The bill still requires a final vote in the House and approval from the Senate before it can become law. And those votes could happen as soon as this week.

While this is good news for Penn National, if passed it would put additional pressure on operators in Atlantic City.

MGM Mirage

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Boyd Gaming

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co-own the Borgata, one of the biggest casinos in the gambling hub.

Aside from the economic downturn, Atlantic City has faced headwinds from increasing competition in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York.

New Hampshire is also in the process of creating a gaming report to present to Gov. John Lynch on the pros and cons of expanding gambling.

Lynch formed the commission to study various models of gaming and the potential gaming has to produce more state revenues, as well as its impact on quality of life. The final report is due in June.

-- Reported by Jeanine Poggi in New York.

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