New Jersey’s tiny neighbor to the south now poses a bigger threat to Atlantic City’s $3.9 billion casino market.

In a final legislative vote Thursday, Delaware’s Senate legalized Atlantic City-style table games such as blackjack, poker, craps and roulette. Gov. Jack Markell immediately signed the bill into law.

Markell spokesman Brian Selander said table games should begin this summer, once the casinos hire the workers and complete their training. The new legislation establishes the regulatory framework.

Delaware joins Pennsylvania in approving table games this year, giving Atlantic City even more competition at a time when the nation’s second-largest casino market is struggling with declining revenue and the weak economy.

One gaming analyst predicted Delaware and Pennsylvania could combine to drive down Atlantic City’s table game revenue by as much as 15 percent. However, he added that the revenue decline likely won’t be that big because of the scheduled 2011 grand opening of the $2.5 billion Revel casino in Atlantic City and an expected uptick in the regional economy.

“Atlantic City gets hit both by Pennsylvania and Delaware because they sit within the heart of our feeder markets,” said Cory H. Morowitz, chairman of Morowitz Gaming Advisors LLC.

Pennsylvania’s slot parlors have been luring customers from the Philadelphia area and the eastern part of the state, former Atlantic City strongholds. Morowitz said Delaware will now make a bigger play for the gamblers in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore metropolitan area who come to Atlantic City for table games.

“When Delaware gets table games, they will draw a lot from the D.C.-Baltimore corridor,” he said.

Joseph A. Corbo Jr., president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, predicted that Atlantic City will rise above the competition by emphasizing its oceanfront hotel towers and array of high-end nightclubs, restaurants and retail shops — attractions that Pennsylvania and Delaware generally lack.

“This would obviously be additional competition on the horizon at a time when consumer spending has declined,” Corbo said of Delaware’s table games. “However, we continue to believe that the variety of product and quality of nongaming amenities we have bodes well for Atlantic City’s future.”

Delaware’s three racetrack slot parlors — Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway — currently do only a fraction of the business of Atlantic City’s casinos. In 2009, Delaware had slot revenue of $568.5 million, compared to $2.7 billion for Atlantic City. Table games generated an additional $1.2 billion in revenue for the 11 Atlantic City casino hotels.

Spectrum Gaming Group, a Linwood-based casino consulting firm, is forecasting an 8 percent increase in Delaware gaming revenue this year. The company believes gaming revenue will jump nearly 24 percent in Pennsylvania, but Atlantic City will suffer a 4.3 percent decline.

Delaware’s casino operators will keep 66 percent of the revenue generated by table games. The state will receive 29 percent and the remaining revenue will subsidize horse-racing purses.

Table games will complement Delaware’s sports betting on professional football games. Delaware is the only state east of the Mississippi River that has sports betting, although New Jersey has filed a lawsuit in hopes of overturning a federal ban on the activity.

Delaware was one of only four states — along with Nevada, Montana and Oregon — grandfathered under a 1992 federal law that prohibits sports betting. Those states had some form of sports betting laws before or at the time the ban was enacted.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:

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