Developers of the Centre County mini-casino planned at Nittany Mall are counting on more than $100 million in annual revenue from the gaming operation after investing $79.5 million upfront.
Those financial figures are included in a formal application submitted March 1 to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board by SC Gaming OpCo LLC. That company is headed by Philadelphia businessman/investor Ira Lubert. His $10 million bid at a gaming board auction Sept. 2 entitled him to develop Pennsylvania’s fifth mini-casino at a location close to the campus of Penn State University, where he is a longtime trustee and financial contributor.
The gaming board posted portions of the application on its website Tuesday, with various financial and personal details blacked out as “confidential.” The application stated SC Gaming OpCo LLC, with Lubert as president and full owner, was newly formed under Delaware law Nov. 5 for purposes of operating the casino.
Information posted last month on the website of College Township, where the mall is located, previously confirmed the former Macy’s site there would contain what the state defines as a Category 4 casino. The smaller-than-customary casinos can have up to 750 slot machines and 30 to 40 table games, plus a sportsbook and dining/entertainment facilities.
The application states the empty department store is 94,766 square feet, with 2,068 mall parking spaces nearby, located just over a mile from Interstate 99.
A local impact report from the developer, which was part of the previous posting by the township, declared that the mini-casino would have minimal additional impact on local services due to the mall location. The project is among four of the state’s five mini-casinos utilizing vacant mall or other commercial space to take advantage of existing infrastructure rather than building from the ground up.
The SC Gaming OpCo application explains: “As a prominent retail location, with several [anchor] sites and additional retail outlets the Nittany Mall is an ideal location which is already an established and well-designed location for high volume consumer-oriented retail business such as the proposed Category 4 licensed facility.”
Revenue projected at $116 million by 10th year
The portion of the application made public contained no reference to Bally’s Corp., but that national gaming company announced in January that it would be partnering with Lubert in the Centre County project. Bally’s said it would be taking the primary role in the sportsbook and online gaming to be connected to the casino.
The application identified Las Vegas gaming consultant Eric Pearson as the prospective CEO of the new property. He formerly held that same position at Valley Forge Casino Resort, when Lubert was the primary owner there before his group sold the casino to Boyd Gaming Corp.
An Economic and Fiscal Impact portion of the application showed estimated annual operating revenues for the casino rising from $91 million in the first year to $101.4 million by the fifth year and $116 million “upon stabilization of the property” in the 10th year. The document did not specify if that income was solely from gaming, or if it included other sources such as drinks and dining.
Construction is expected to begin later this year, after formal licensing approval by the gaming board. The economic impact statement said construction would involve 350 full-time equivalent jobs averaging $46,000 in annual compensation, and the casino’s operation itself would involve 390 to 440 FTE positions averaging $47,000.
The document identified $79.5 million in upfront expenditures, including $34.9 million for the casino’s design and construction and $13.9 million for the 750 slot machines.
It pegged the one-time economic impact of construction as being worth $61.4 million to Centre County’s economy and $73.3 million to the state’s. On an ongoing basis once open, the document identified the annual impact as $129.3 million for the county and $146.6 million for the state.
Estimates were also provided of direct tax revenue from gaming, which included more than $1.6 million annually expected to come to College Township, a community of about 10,000 residents that is adjacent to State College and has a budget just over $10 million.
Township officials have been supportive of the project, which will need to be outlined to the public at a local hearing still to be scheduled by the gaming board.
Four other mini-casinos at various stages
The additional information about the mini-casino comes as similar projects move along elsewhere in the state, all authorized by the 2017 law that vastly expanded legalized gambling opportunities in Pennsylvania.
The Live! Pittsburgh mini-casino of Cordish Gaming Group is as yet the only one open, itself using former department store space at Westmoreland Mall to debut in November. In February, it drew $6.3 million in slots and table games revenue.
Two mini-casinos being developed by Penn National Gaming are under construction to open later this year, one in mall space at the York Galleria in York County and the other being built from the ground up in Berks County.
And just off of Interstate 81 in Cumberland County, Parx Casino has plans for its satellite casino at a former Lowe’s home supply store. The Shippensburg Township supervisors voted as expected this month to grant conditional use approval for that project.
The long-delayed project is now on a timeline for potential completion in 2022, probably a little ahead of the one in Centre County. The gaming board has tentatively scheduled Shippensburg University’s H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center to host the required public hearing on the project at 4 p.m. May 20, a few miles from the Parx site.