Casino coming to Lawrence County


By Kalea Hall

khall@vindy.com

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A casino will go somewhere in Lawrence County with a 15-mile radius of New Castle.

NEW CASTLE, PA.

Fourteen years ago, Lawrence County started to seek out a casino investor.

On Thursday, it learned Mount Airy No. 1 LLC was the high bidder with a bid of $21 million in the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s public bid for a category four casino license with three bids received.

Mount Airy No. 1 LLC, which operates the Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Poconos, selected New Castle as the center point of location for the new casino that can have up to 750 slot machines and 40 table games.

The casino can be built within a 15-mile radius around the center location as long as the municipality is in Pennsylvania and it hasn’t opted out as a host for casino, the gaming control board said.

“We were very, very happy when they announced Lawrence County,” said Dan Vogler, Lawrence County commissioner chairman. “We are hoping for some spinoff. It’s a very positive for our community.”

Mount Airy did not have a timeline to share for when the project will be finished and how many jobs it would bring to the community but said more details, including a location, will be announced next week.

“This is a monumental day as we look to the future of the Mount Airy brand, knowing that the creation of a second casino resort will benefit Pennsylvania’s economy and communities,” said Lisa DeNaples, owner and managing trustee of Mount Airy Casino Resort, in a statement sent to The Vindicator.

The casino, when it opens, will be a little more than a half-hour away from Penn National Gaming’s Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course in Austintown, Ohio, which has more than 1,000 slot machines and a one-mile thoroughbred racetrack.

Alan Silver, Ohio University assistant professor of hospitality and tourism and an economic consultant for Nathan Associates, believes the new New Castle casino will have an impact on the racino’s business.

“That’s a short distance,” Silver said.

Silver is concerned Pennsylvania is going be oversaturated with gaming facilities. Pennsylvania already has 12 operating gaming facilities and a new $600 million casino in the works in Philadelphia.

In October, Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 42 of 2017 into law, creating the concept of a “Category 4 Slot Machine License.”

The gaming board has up to 10 available licenses to auction.

“It’s really going to increase the supply and whether or not the demand is there, I doubt it,” Silver said.

“That is really over-expansion. I think Ohio will have to look at that situation closely.”

Vogler isn’t concerned about too many gaming facilities in Pennsylvania because of the strength in the revenue figures. Total gaming revenue in the state was $3,226,910,816 in 2017, up from 2016’s $3,213,422,178, according to the gaming control board.

Stadium Casino LLC, which is building the Philadelphia casino, won a license to build in Westmoreland County with its high bid of $40.1 million.

And Penn National won a license to build a casino in York County with its high bid of $50.1 million.

“We believe this is the best location, [It is] an under-served location in the state of Pennsylvania with access to the northern Maryland market,” said Timothy Wilmott, CEO of Penn National, during an earnings conference call Thursday. “We want to see where all the other flags are placed as the licenses get distributed before we make the final determination of a location and level of investment.”

Penn National did not respond to a request to comment about the New Castle casino.

Thursday, Penn reported fourth-quarter revenues of $769 million, up from last year’s $742.9 million. The company had a net loss of $308.7 million during the quarter, compared with a gain of $5 million the previous year. The quarter was affected by cash-settled, stock-based compensation awards from the rise in Penn’s stock price, from the cost of acquiring Pinnacle Entertainment and the impact of the Las Vegas shooting on Tropicana’s operations.

For the year, the gaming company’s revenues of $3.1 billion were up from 2016’s $3 billion. Income for the year was $502 million, up from $109 million made in 2016.

The gaming control board will have its next public auction at 10 a.m. Feb. 21 in its Harrisburg Public Hearing Room in Strawberry Square.

The auction will be streamed live at: http://gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov/.

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