Construction Halt At Future Casinos Is Latest Damage To PA Industry From Virus

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Pennsylvania’s existing casinos were already interrupted by the threat from the COVID-19 coronavirus, and now its future casinos are imperiled as well.

Penn National Gaming has announced the halt to construction of its two mini-casinos that had been slated to be completed by year’s end in York and Berks counties.

Stadium Casino LLC has yet to make a similar announcement concerning projects it also hoped to finish work on and possibly open by the end of 2020: Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia and its own mini-casino at Westmoreland Mall in suburban Pittsburgh. It stands to reason those will be interrupted as well, however, given all of the other stoppages due to the virus.

Penn National reviewing all capital expenditures

The Penn National announcement by company President Jay Snowden left open the possibility the halt to its mini-casino projects could be more than just temporary, given the uncertainty surrounding the casino industry and PNG’s own finances right now. Like that of other publicly owned casino companies, PNG’s stock has been tanking in recent weeks, reaching an eight-year low.

The statement came out Tuesday after orders by Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board had shut down all 12 casinos in the state, two of which are Penn National properties.

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“We fully support the governor’s effort to try to stem the tide of this unprecedented public health threat,” Snowden said. “We also believe it’s prudent to revisit any and all capital expenditure commitments in order to help preserve liquidity in light of the impact of COVID-19 on our business.”

Both of the Penn National mini-casinos, in which it has planned to invest more than $230 million combined, had a chance to open late this year.

The company bid $50.1 million at the first auction for rights to develop a mini-casino, which has been under construction through renovations to a former Sears at York Galleria Mall. The total cost of Hollywood Casino York, as it is known, has been tabbed at $120 million.

Hollywood Casino Morgantown, being constructed in a more rural location near the Pennsylvania Turnpike, carried a lower auction bid of $7.5 million and $111 million total cost.

The satellite casinos are permitted to have up to 750 slot machines and 30 table games at the outset. Penn National has also planned to move OTB operations into them that would include the opportunity for sports wagering.

Questions hang over Live! projects

Stadium Casino LLC is developing its two Live! projects as an affiliate of Baltimore-based The Cordish Companies. It bid $40.1 million for rights to develop its Westmoreland County project, known as Live! Casino Pittsburgh, in a former Bon-Ton store at the mall. It budgeted $150 million total for the project.

Company officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday about either the mini-casino or the far more ambitious $700 million Live! project in South Philadelphia.

The 1.5-million square foot complex is to include a casino with 2,200 slot machines and 150-plus table games, plus a hotel with more than 200 rooms and numerous dining/entertainment options. The company has said the project would create 3,000 construction jobs and 2,000 permanent positions.

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Gary Rotstein

Gary is a longtime journalist, having spent three decades covering gambling, state government, and other issues for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in addition to stints as managing editor of the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette and as a reporter for United Press International and the Middletown (Conn.) Press. Contact Gary at [email protected].

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