PITTSBURGH - The electronic poker tables with motion-activated "dealers" were largely empty Tuesday afternoon at the Rivers Casino. No matter, the real thing was coming in a few hours at six pits around the sprawling casino floor.
The Rivers and two other western Pennsylvania casinos were conducting an eight-hour test of its new table games Tuesday, as required by state gaming regulators. The proceeds in Pittsburgh, The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in Washington County and Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Erie will go to various charities and - barring any glitches - will open to the public Thursday.
"It's an absolute game changer for us," said Todd Moyer, the Rivers' general manager, who said having table games will bring a new clientele to the casino that sits along the Ohio River.
Nearby, at an electronic roulette table, 52-year-old Bart Effinite used the touch screen to make a bet. The New Castle resident said he liked not having to reach over people to play the game like at a real table - but he's still looking forward to playing games with real dealers.
"Guys like cards, women like the slots," Effinite said matter-of-factly.
The casinos have been preparing for this day since 2009, when Gov. Ed Rendell and top legislators included the legalization of table games as part of a handshake deal to raise more revenue for the recession-battered state treasury. Lawmakers passed the bill in January.
Payment of licensing fees by the state's nine operating casinos and an additional casino expected to open later this year brought in $165 million in June. Over the next 12 months, tens of millions of dollars are expected to flow to the state and some local governments from a 16 percent tax on the casino's take at the tables.
The Rivers and The Meadows plan to open table games at 6 a.m. Thursday. Presque Isle plans to open its games at 10 a.m. that day. Casinos in central and eastern Pennsylvania will follow in the next few months.
"It will give the customers a whole different world of choices," said Kevin Ryan, the director of table games at Presque Isle Downs. "It's very exciting."