Owner of Sands Casino wins auction for Mercer County mini-casino


HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The owner of Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem won the rights Wednesday to build a mini-casino on the other side of Pennsylvania, potentially making it the state’s sixth casino within a short drive from the Ohio border.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. submitted the winning bid of nearly $9.9 million to build the casino within 15 miles of a point they picked in Hempfield Township in northwestern Pennsylvania’s Mercer County.

The Las Vegas-based casino giant beat out one other bidder for the fourth license under last year’s state law authorizing the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to auction 10 new mini-casinos to help scrounge cash for the state treasury.

Each mini-casino can have 750 slot machines and license holders can pay another $2.5 million to operate 30 table games. The first three licenses raised $112 million for casinos, one in south-central Pennsylvania’s York County and one each in western Pennsylvania’s Westmoreland and Lawrence counties.

There are already three casinos operating in western Pennsylvania, close to the Ohio border: Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, Meadows Racetrack and Casino in suburban Pittsburgh and Presque Isle Downs Casino in suburban Erie.

Mini-casinos can operate up to 750 slot machines and license holders can pay $2.5 million more to operate 30 table games. Bids are limited for now to the owners of Pennsylvania’s 11 casino licenses that allow holders to operate up to 5,000 slot machines and 250 table games.

Pennsylvania-based Penn National Gaming won the first mini-casino license last month, bidding $50 million to put one in an area of south-central Pennsylvania that includes the city of York. A Baltimore-based developer that’s building a casino in Philadelphia’s stadium district won the second license, bidding $40 million to put up a casino in Westmoreland County, outside Pittsburgh.

Earlier this month, the family that owns northeastern Pennsylvania’s Mount Airy Casino Resort won the rights to build a mini-casino in Lawrence County, also along the Ohio border, an area that has tried for years to land a casino project.

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