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Decision on Nittany Mall Casino License Likely Still Months Away

Though the process is moving forward, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s decision on whether to grant a license for a category 4 casino at the Nittany Mall is still likely months away from happening.

According to a hearing officer’s scheduling order, a hearing on petitions to intervene is tentatively set for the board’s Oct. 19 meeting in Harrisburg. At that meeting, the board will hear arguments from parties seeking standing to intervene in opposition to granting the casino license to developer SC Gaming OpCo, which is led by Penn State alumnus and investor Ira Lubert.

A separate hearing for the board to vote on license approval could only come after those arguments are heard. So, the board’s November meeting would be the earliest date for a licensing hearing, during which SC Gaming Op Co. and the PGCB’s Office of Enforcement Counsel would present any updated evidence and make oral arguments for whether the license should be granted. The licensing hearing date, though, has not been scheduled.

“They have to make a decision on any intervention status and those arguments become part of the record, but there’s nothing under the law with the board that says they have to act on any license application in some period of time,” PGCB spokesperson Doug Harbach said. “Even when [intervention requests are] settled, it’s when the board has reached a decision that they can hold a public vote, and that can happen at any time.”

Petitions to intervene are due by Aug. 26, while casino developer SC Gaming OpCo and the Office of Enforcement Counsel have until Sept. 6 to answer any filings.

Harbach said petitions to intervene and a board hearing to determine standing are normal parts of the licensure process.

“If they’re accepted legally to have intervention status then whatever arguments they have would then be part of the record,” Harbach said. “I can’t tell you whether there would be another hearing on that or not… but they would have the opportunity even at a hearing for intervention status to provide arguments on that.”

One party that is likely to petition for intervention is Cordish Companies, which operates as Stadium Casino in Pennsylvania and has separately filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court arguing Lubert’s winning bid in a September 2020 auction to apply for Pennsylvania’s fifth Category 4, or mini-casino, was improperly awarded.

Because it was an auction and not a competitive bidding process, Lubert’s winning bid of $10,000,101 was the only one revealed by the PGCB at the time.

In January 2021, Bally’s Corporation announced it had signed an agreement with Lubert to develop the planned $123 million mini-casino at the Nittany Mall, in the former Macy’s property.

Cordish’s lawsuit alleges Lubert, who was eligible to bid because of his ownership interest in Rivers Casino Pittsburgh, violated PGCB rules by subsequently partnering with Bally’s and other individuals who would not be eligible to bid on the casino. Local developer Robert Poole and real estate executive and Penn State Trustee Richard Sokolov are listed as vice presidents for SC Gaming OpCo.

The petition also alleges that Poole and Sokolov helped pay for the $10 million bid, making Lubert’s bid invalid.

Cordish contends the alleged violations mean Lubert’s bid should be set aside and Stadium Casino awarded the right to apply for the casino license, or for a new auction to be held.

In responses filed in Commonwealth Court, both Lubert and the PGCB denied any violations of the rules. Lubert maintains that he is the sole owner of SC Gaming.

“Nothing in the Gaming Act precludes SC Gaming from being an applicant for Category 4 licensure so long as Lubert is the sole owner at the time the license is awarded,” PGCB’s response stated.

The lawsuit is still pending, according to the Commonwealth Court docket.

For the PGCB process, no party has automatic standing for intervention in the case of an auction bid, Harbach said.

“Any party can certainly apply for intervention status,” he said. “The board then has an opportunity to have a hearing on those filings and then render a decision on whether or not they have standing.”

It’s been nearly a year since the PGCB held a public input hearing on the casino in State College. The board closed the public comment period on June 12.

In the meantime, local opponents of the casino have submitted hundreds of comments to the PGCB and College Township, along with numerous letters to the editor. A petition opposing the casino has garnered 1,400 endorsers.

According to Play Pennsylvania, the PGCB has only rejected a mini-casino once. The board did not approve a proposal for Beaver County in 2019 because they did not believe it was economically viable.

If the license is granted, the final step will be permit approvals for construction and renovations at the former Macy’s location in the mall. College Township Council already approved land development plans for the project last fall.

Bally’s previously indicated that renovations would take about a year to complete.

The casino would have 750 slot machines, 30 table games and sports betting along with a restaurant and bar with entertainment space and a multi-outlet quick-serve food and beverage area.