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Rep. Conklin: Casino a No-Go in Centre County

by and on September 06, 2019 3:30 PM

The long-rumored casino at the Nittany Mall won’t be happening. 

State Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Philipsburg, who is the Democratic chairman of the House Gaming Oversight Committee, said a group of individuals was looking to secure a Category 4 license to open a casino at the Nittany Mall, but they were unable to come to an agreement on a lease with the mall's owners. An auction for a Category 4 casino license on Sept. 4 ended with no bidders.

Conklin said potential bidders went through the necessary process to make a bid possible with the help of state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner, College Township personnel, the Centre County commissioners and himself. But, they were not able to make the bid at the auction because the lease agreement with the mall could not be finalized. He said there will be no more Category 4 license auctions for the foreseeable future.

Conklin said he is disappointed because he felt a casino would bring jobs to the county and help revitalize the mall and surrounding area, and revealed that is why he and other local leaders were working to make it a possibility.

“I don’t even gamble. At the same time, I have been to these types of casinos and I have seen the individuals who before were having a hard time and now were working jobs that were paying them $25 to $30 dollars an hour as they move up,” said Conklin. “This wasn’t about gambling. This was about giving individuals jobs with a future.”

He said besides the creation of jobs at the casino, the business would help revitalize the area and help all the businesses surrounding and in the mall.

An entity called Nittany Gaming LLC had signed a memorandum of lease option with the mall in 2018 giving it the right to lease or buy the former Bon-Ton location. The memorandum did not specifically state what type of business would be operated there. College Township is one of the few municipalities in the area to not opt out of casino consideration in 2017 before the state began auctioning licenses. Within the township, only a portion of the Nittany Mall, including the former Bon-Ton, would be permitted to have a casino under the zoning code and adult business ordinance.

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board said that per Act 20 of 2019, the board was to conduct up to five auctions for the remaining Category 4 Slot Machine Licenses. Bidders could only be current holders of Pennsylvania casino licenses. The act directed that no further auctions are to be conducted if an auction fails to generate a bid.

Under the Gaming Expansion Act of 2017, the Gaming Control Board was authorized to award up to 10 Category 4 (satellite) Slot Machine Operator Licenses through an auction process which was conducted from January to April 2018, resulting in five successful auctions garnering $127 million in bids to secure the right to obtain a Category 4 license.

Two of the projects have thus far received approval by the board to begin construction:

  • Mountainview Thoroughbred Racing Association, LLC, which operates Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, was awarded a Category 4 license on June 12 to construct a satellite casino in Caernarvon Township, Berks County (bid price: $7,5000,003).
  • Stadium Casino, LLC, which is constructing a Category 2 casino in Philadelphia, was awarded a Category 4 license on August 14 to construct a satellite casino in Hempfield Township, Westmoreland County (bid price: $40,100,005);

Three Category 4 projects have submitted applications, after successfully winning an auction last year, with their final award still pending:

  • Mountainview Thoroughbred Racing Association, LLC, is seeking a second license in this category to construct a satellite casino in Springettsbury Township, York County (bid price: $50,100,000);
  • Mount Airy No. 1, LLC which operates the Mount Airy Casino Resort, is seeking a license to construct a satellite casino in Big Beaver Borough, Beaver County (bid price: $21,188,888.88);
  • Greenwood Gaming and Entertainment Inc., which operates the Parx Casino, is seeking a license to construct a satellite casino in Shippensburg Township, Cumberland County (bid price: $8,111,000).

A Category 4 Slot Machine Operators License permits the entity to operate between 300 and 750 slot machines. The entity could also petition for permission to initially operate up to 30 table games for an additional fee of $2.5 million with the capability of adding an additional 10 tables games after its first year of operation.

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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