Financing Problems Scuttle Mount Airy Mini-Casino In Beaver County

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Mount Airy Resort Casino will not be constructing a mini-casino in Beaver County after all.

Financing problems affecting the planned project led the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Wednesday morning to reject the Category 4 license for which Mount Airy bid $21.2 mm at a February 2018 auction.

The funding difficulties meant Mount Airy was “unable to satisfy requirements to establish the operational viability of this particular project,” according to a staff recommendation presented to the board.

Mount Airy officials did not speak at the meeting and were unavailable for interview, but they did not oppose the board’s action.

Casino officials refer to competitive pressures

“After much discussion and consideration with our lender, it became clear that we would be unable to procure the needed funds to complete the project,” Todd Greenberg, the casino’s chief operating officer and general manager, stated in a press release.

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“Unfortunately, external factors such as increased competition from new casinos and nearby destination resorts had a larger impact on our revenues than originally anticipated.”

The mini-casino with 750 slot machines and 30 table games was planned in a rural location in Big Beaver, 35 miles north of Pittsburgh near the Beaver County-Lawrence County line. While no immediate population center or other retail operations are nearby, the undeveloped site was chosen as one easily accessible for motorists near the intersection of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Interstate 376.

Board officials said 75% of the casino’s original bid payment will be returned to Mount Airy, but it will forfeit $5.3 mm to the state.

The mini-casino was to be one of five planned in the state, and one of two within western Pennsylvania. Stadium Casino LLC began reconstruction this month of a former Bon-Ton store at Westmoreland Mall to convert it into a satellite casino expected to open in late 2020.

Unclear if mini-casino bidding could reopen

Legislation approved in October 2017 authorized up to 10 mini-casinos in the state, although bids emerged in 2018 for only five, as the existing casinos found Pennsylvania to be too saturated with gambling to invest in any more.

No new bidders emerged when an extra auction mandated by the Legislature was held two months ago. Board officials gave no indication of whether the termination of Mount Airy’s Big Beaver project might lead to another auction.

In addition to the Westmoreland County mini-casino, others are planned in Berks and York counties by Hollywood Casino and in Cumberland County by Parx Casino. The projects in York and Cumberland counties are still awaiting their licensing approvals from the gaming board.

Up to now, there had been no indication of financing problems for any of the projects. At a public hearing in December 2018, Mount Airy officials indicated they were prepared to invest at least $50 mm beyond their auction bid to develop a one-story, 103,000-square-foot casino with slots, tables, a sportsbook, and multiple restaurants on a site of fields and woods they had not yet purchased.

Statement stresses Mount Airy itself is doing fine

Local government officials were strong supporters of the project, focused on the potential for 400 or more permanent jobs at the site and other potential economic benefits. Some local residents were applauded at last year’s public hearing, however, when they raised concerns about harming the local area’s tranquil nature.

In Mount Airy’s statement on the turnaround, Greenberg emphasized that the family-owned casino in Monroe County is itself “doing quite well,” with no financial problems of its own.

“We are disappointed that this project will not come to fruition, but we are dedicated to continuing to raise the bar at our flagship Poconos location as a premiere provider of entertainment, hospitality, and gaming,” he said.

“Recent additions to the Mt. Airy Casino Resort include a $40 million hotel/convention addition, sportsbook, and new poker room. The amenities have been well received by our guests and have resulted in record hotel revenue. We look forward to serving our guests, team members, and the local community for many years to come.”

In 2018-19, Mount Airy earned $145.5 mm in revenue from 1,875 slot machines and $40.1 mm from about 70 table games.

Photo by Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock.com

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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.

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