Pennsylvania has its 17th casino with the opening of Parx Casino Shippensburg at 10 a.m. Thursday after the venue successfully completed two mandated test days this week.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s green light given to the Parx mini-casino in Cumberland County was just one of numerous recent developments in the state’s ever-growing gaming industry. It also approved a license Wednesday for a future mini-casino near State College, and multiple other casinos have been tweaking operations.
Parx did not promote Thursday’s “soft opening” of its mini-casino, instead focusing attention on a grand opening celebration planned at 10 a.m. on Feb. 3 for the state’s first new gaming venue in more than a year. The Shippensburg facility is the fourth mini-casino — limited to a maximum of 750 slot machines — and the third in south-central Pennsylvania.
Using 73,000 square feet of space in a former Lowe’s store off of Interstate 81’s Exit 29 southwest of Harrisburg, Parx is offering just 549 slot machines instead of the maximum, in order to give customers more space. It also has electronic table games, sports betting kiosks, and a sports bar/restaurant.
Like Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment’s flagship Parx property, located in Bucks County, and unlike other Pennsylvania casinos, the facility is non-smoking.
Counterparts have reopened indoor smoking
At one point, Parx had companionship in its no-smoking policy from Mount Airy Casino Resort and Rivers Philadelphia, but that changed last year. While casinos have the right to allow smoking on up to 50% of their gaming floor under an exception for them in Pennsylvania’s Clean Indoor Air Act of 2008, there is no requirement that they permit it.
Smoking was temporarily banned in all casinos due to COVID after they reopened in mid-2020 from mandated shutdowns, but that prohibition was dropped as public health concerns eased. For a time, Parx, Mount Airy, and Rivers Philadelphia all voluntarily maintained smoking prohibitions unlike other casinos, but first Mount Airy and then Rivers allowed smoking again in late 2022.
Parx’s run as the top revenue-generating casino in the state has been unaffected by the ban, which has been extended to the new satellite operation in Shippensburg. And it appears they will get some company in the future. In testimony at a public hearing Wednesday before the gaming board approved a license for the future Ira Lubert-Bally’s Corp. mini-casino at Nittany Mall in Centre County, a casino representative said the facility — at least a year away from opening — would be non-smoking.
Bills have been introduced repeatedly in recent Pennsylvania Legislature sessions to extend the ban on indoor smoking to casinos, but those have failed to gain any traction. New Jersey legislators have been considering a similar ban affecting Atlantic City casinos, which has been the subject of more intensive lobbying there by gaming employees and seemingly has greater potential for passage.
Valley Forge back to 24/7 operations
All of Pennsylvania’s larger casinos are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and Valley Forge Casino Resort has decided to once again join them.
Casino owner Boyd Gaming Corp. announced the return to around-the-clock operations starting last Friday for the first time since the pandemic closures of 2020. Valley Forge reopened that year with early-morning closures it had maintained since.
The return to 24/7 operations “speaks to the vitality of Valley Forge Casino Resort’s business, and the health of the gaming and hospitality industry as a whole,” Boyd said in a press release.
While the slot machines will always be open for play, there will be early-morning hours when table games are not staffed and will be unavailable, including 4 to 10 a.m. on weekdays and 5 to 10 a.m. on weekends.
The state’s smaller gaming facilities make decisions on an individual basis about their operating hours. While the new Parx Casino Shippensburg will be open around the clock on weekends, it is to close from 2 to 10 a.m. Monday through Thursday. Representatives of the future mini-casino at Nittany Mall said it would be open 24/7.
Fanatics reportedly interested in betPARX
While officials connected to Parx Casino and owner Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment have not discussed it publicly, a report surfaced last week that their betPARX digital sportsbook platform is under consideration for purchase by Fanatics.
Fanatics, a major seller of sports-related merchandise, has been actively preparing to enter the national sports betting industry in 2023, and opened its first retail sportsbook last week at FedEx Field in Maryland. Also last week, CNBC reported that Fanatics is considering acquiring and rebranding betPARX, which began in Pennsylvania but also operates or has approval to do so in New Jersey, Michigan, Maryland, and Ohio.
BetPARX is a middle-of-the-pack operator in revenue among Pennsylvania’s 14 online sportsbooks. With the number of sportsbooks limited in Pennsylvania to the number of brick-and-mortar casinos that hold sportsbook licenses, acquiring betPARX would give Fanatics access to the state that it might otherwise be denied.
Gaming board acts again on unattended children
At its monthly meeting Wednesday, the state gaming board returned to a topic it has dealt with more frequently than it wants — the problem of adult gamblers who leave children unattended while they patronize casinos.
Four more adults were placed on the state’s Involuntary Exclusion List barring them from casinos for leaving children at risk. The incidents involved children left in parked vehicles in three cases, and the fourth involved kids left in the food court at Valley Forge. No injuries to the minors were reported.
The gaming board reports that 303 different incidents were identified last year in which adults left children unattended while the parents or guardians gambled in one of the state’s casinos. The agency has a “Don’t Gamble with Kids” public service campaign designed to raise awareness of the problem and curb future incidents.
Photo courtesy of Parx Casino