Nearly a year after public comment began on the proposed mini-casino at Nittany Mall, a state regulator announced on Tuesday that it was finally ending the public comment period.
As a sign of progress for a project months behind schedule, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board said it would accept comments – via online, email, fax or mail – until 5 p.m. on June 12. Sometime after that date, a public hearing will be held in Harrisburg to determine whether a casino license should ultimately be granted.
No hearing date has yet been set. But, according to a review commission official, hearings usually take place on the same day as regular meetings. And, based on the public calendar of the PGCB, the next three such meetings are scheduled for June 15, July 20 and August 17.
It is possible that the hearing at the mini-casino in Center County, within the College Township limits, can be scheduled as little as 24 hours in advance. However, according to PGCB spokesman Douglas Harbach, agendas are usually posted on Mondays, with meetings taking place on Wednesdays – so the public should know at least two days in advance.
Although the public is invited to attend the hearing, no further public comment will be received.
Center County’s proposed casino first took shape in September 2020 when Penn State alum Ira Lubert offered $10 million to win a mini-casino license, also known as Category 4 license, which allows the operation of a casino approximately one-quarter to one-half the size of a typical Pennsylvania casino. In January 2021, Bally’s Corporation announced that it had partnered with Lubert to build a $120 million mini-casino, which could feature up to 750 slot machines and 30 table games with plans to include sport bets.
An initial public hearing was held in August 2021 at the Penn State Hotel & Conference Center, and a hearing before the PGCB was scheduled in Harrisburg last fall. But that audience never materialized.
Asked about the specific reasons for the delay and the extended public comment period, Harbach said the pandemic played a significant role in the latter. Regarding the delay, Harbach said the substantive work needs to be completed first before being handed over to the board for consideration.
“Many investigations take a long time, sometimes because we have to keep asking for more and better information,” Harbach said. “Remember that we conduct background investigations for the licensing of many different gaming entities such as manufacturers, suppliers, etc., not just casinos. Many have taken considerable time.
A competing bidder lawsuit was also filed last year against Lubert, the former chairman of Penn State’s board of directors, and his company – SC Gaming Op Co., LLC – for allegedly collaborating with some who were not eligible to bid. But the PGCB has systematically denied there was a correlation between the trial and the delay. The lawsuit is still listed as active.
at Bally’s initially predicted construction is expected to begin in the first half of last year, with the casino expected to open about a year later. Instead, building permits have yet to be approved and a license has yet to be granted.
Bally’s officials did not immediately respond to CDT’s request for an updated schedule.
Only two other hurdles stand in the mini-casino’s way – getting its license approved by the PGCB, which could happen at this hearing to be determined; and have building permits approved by the Central Region Code Administration.
Still, critics of the casino tried to convince officials not to license.
Residents continued to send letters to the editor, many formally submitted their concerns to the PGCB and more than 1,100 signed a petition against the casino. Critics point to the potential for crime, strain on services, gambling problems for vulnerable people (eg, Penn State students), and the general well-being of a community.
Supporters countered by pointing to the economic benefits and potential revitalization of the Nittany Mall.
According to officials, the casino should employ between 350 and 400 full-time equivalent positions. And, according to a consultant, College Township would likely receive around $1.6 million in the casino’s first year of operation. (For comparison, the annual budget for the township’s general fund is about $10.5 million.)
A PGCB spokesperson previously told the CDT that the host municipality receives 2% of gross revenue from slots and 1% from table games. The same goes for the county. However, sports betting revenue does not specifically go to a municipality or county.
Those wishing to submit their opinions on the filing of a potential Center County casino, either for or against, can do so until 5 p.m. on June 12. Community members can email [email protected], fax 717-265-7416, submit a comment via a link on the forum homepage or send your comments to:
PA game control board
303 Walnut Street, 5th Floor, Commonwealth Tower
Harrisburg, PA 17101
Attention: Council Clerk