Mini-Casino In York County Gets Go-Ahead From PA Gaming Board

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A mini-casino in a former Sears at the York Galleria mall could be open a year from now after receiving approval from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board Wednesday.

Officials from Hollywood Casino and its parent company, Penn National Gaming, spent an hour describing the suburban York project at a hearing prior to the board’s vote to issue a license. A prior public hearing was held in Springettsbury Township.

The Category 4 facility will be one of two satellites for Hollywood Casino. Penn National bid $50.1 mm, the highest price fetched at gaming board auctions held in 2018, for the right to develop a mini-casino in York County. Its other satellite, also licensed and under construction, will be Hollywood Casino Morgantown in Berks County.

York satellite casino will be one of four in the state

Hollywood’s two mini-casinos will be among four in Pennsylvania under a 2017 law that expanded gambling in the state. The law allowed for the possibility of 10 that would be affiliated with existing casinos, and five bids were placed. It was unexpectedly revealed at the board’s Nov. 20 meeting, however, that Mount Airy Casino Resort lacked financing to proceed with the Category 4 project it intended in Beaver County.

There were no such surprises at Wednesday’s hearing, as casino officials described a $120 mm plan to turn the mall’s vacant department store into a facility that will initially have 500 slot machines, 24 table games, a sports and race book, restaurant, bar, and stage for weekend entertainment.

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The site will have potential to expand to the maximum of 750 slot machines and 40 table games permitted by law. The mini-casinos will generally be about one-third to one-half the size of the main Pennsylvania casinos such as Hollywood, which is located about an hour’s drive north of York Galleria.

“We think York is a very good gaming market,” said Chris Rogers, Penn National’s senior vice president of corporate development. “It’s also an opportunity for us to further expand our footprint in our home state of Pennsylvania, which is important to us.”

Gambling could help spur other mall activity

Officials said the facility would provide more than 200 full-time jobs, and their hope is to help stimulate other commercial activity at the mall off of Route 30, which has seen hard times in recent years like many comparable shopping centers. That decline in commercial activity is one reason a traffic study suggested there is room to add a mini-casino without major traffic disruptions, although one traffic signal may be added.

In response to a question from the board, officials said there would be no internal mall access to the casino. Patrons would enter through a main porte cochere entrance facing the parking lot.

Casino executives said they have been working on traffic issues and other development details in tandem with officials of Springettsbury. The township stands to reap some $1 mm in annual tax benefits once the casino is in full operation, according to Penn National.

The possibility of a late 2020 opening is similar to what has been estimated for the Hollywood mini-casino project in Berks County and one in Westmoreland County for the Cordish Companies, under the Live! brand. The fourth project, in Cumberland County as a Parx Casino satellite, is still awaiting licensing approval.

Sportsbook to be added to suburban Allentown OTB

Another form of gambling expansion was also approved by the board, allowing Mohegan Sun Pocono Downs to add a sportsbook to its OTB race parlor in suburban Allentown.

The Downs at Lehigh Valley will be able to add sports wagering, similar to what already takes place at two Parx OTB sites in Philadelphia, once renovations are complete and it successfully undergoes a testing period monitored by gaming board staff. No date was provided for when that might occur.

Mohegan Sun has not announced any intention to add a sportsbook to its other OTB location in East Stroudsburg.

Philadelphia casino fined for underage gambling

In other action, the gaming board imposed a $60,000 fine on Rivers Philadelphia for allowing underage individuals to get past security checkpoints and gamble. Problems with screening individuals under age 21 and preventing them from gambling has led to more fines of Pennsylvania casinos than any other type of violation.

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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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