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Centre Region taking action on casino legislation

by on November 30, 2017 8:00 AM

Nearly all municipalities in the Centre Region have passed resolutions, or plan to discuss passing a resolution, to block the development of a casino within their boundaries.

Most discussion among supervisors and borough council members has centered around the control factor of passing a resolution to opt out of playing host to a casino.

Municipalities have until the end of the calendar year to make their resolutions, which they can rescind at a later time.

Currently, casinos bring in $3.2 billion in state gambling revenue, according to most recent figures. Lawmakers hope a gambling expansion will bring in $200 million or more from the state in license fees and taxes.

The casinos in question are under what is referred to as Category 4, meaning they can hold at least 300 slot machines but no more than 750. They can also have 30 tables initially, with the opportunity for more to be approved by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

Bidding for Category 4 casino licenses will start at $7.5 million, and will be available to 10 of the 12 already-existing facilities in the state. Next year, companies can begin the auction process. Winning bidders will select their location, and that will prevent other casinos from snatching up the territory. There are restrictions on where the satellite, or Category 4, casinos can be located. They can’t be within 12 miles of existing casinos, unless that nearby casino already belongs to a license holder.

LOCAL MEASURES

Steve Miller, chairman of the Ferguson Township supervisors, recommended forgoing a discussion on whether a casino in the township was a good idea during a Nov. 20 meeting.

“I think the only prudent thing to do is pass a resolution prohibiting Category 4 casinos and later if you want to change it, that’s when you discuss if it’s a good idea or not.”

Peter Buckland made a motion to hold a public hearing, which passed unanimously.

State College Borough Council on Nov. 20 voted unanimously to pass such a resolution. The council also heard from two audience members during public comment, one who urged members not to pass up an opportunity for revenue and another who praised the resolution to block casino development, briefly describing his struggle with gambling addiction.

As The Gazette previously reported, Harris and Patton townships will consider similar votes. Harris supervisors will likely vote at their Dec. 11 meeting, and Patton Township will hold a public hearing on the matter on Dec. 13.

So far, it doesn’t appear as though any municipalities have had casino plans formally presented to them, but that could change in the coming months as the bidding process begins.

Earlier this year, state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, said previous fears of the negative effects of casinos haven’t really come true.

“I’ve never been a gaming vote,” Corman said in July. “Having said that, I think a lot of the fears that many of us had when gaming first came into place have not come true. The casinos have operated as good corporate citizens, and as a form of entertainment it has not caused a lot of the social issues that many of us were concerned about.”

The PGCB is keeping tabs on the municipalities that pass a resolution to opt out of Category 4 casino development. As of Nov. 20, the latest list available, 88 municipalities in the state had passed such a measure.

So far only Washington County has opted out of truck-stop video gaming terminals, a decision made by county commissioners on Nov 16. Washington County is home to The Meadows Racetrack and Casino. Last year, managers at The Meadows were vocal in their opposition to expansions of terminals in restaurants and bars, according to TribLIVE. The Observer-Reporter reported The Meadows contributes $10 million each year from slot machine play.

Researchers from PlayPennsylvania.com have counted more than 26,000 slot machines and 1,200 table games across the 12 casino properties in the state, making it the second-biggest gambling state in the U.S.

The state also recently moved to legalize and regulate online gambling, with PlayPennsylvania projecting $275 million in revenue per year after five years and $120 million in licensing fees.

 

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