State College

Local municipalities act to prohibit casinos

This June 24, 2016 photo shows slot machines inside the Golden Nugget casino in Atlantic City N.J. Figures released by New Jersey gambling regulators on Nov. 22, 2017 show the city's casinos posted an increase in gross operating profit of nearly 21 percent in the third quarter of this year compared to last year. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
This June 24, 2016 photo shows slot machines inside the Golden Nugget casino in Atlantic City N.J. Figures released by New Jersey gambling regulators on Nov. 22, 2017 show the city's casinos posted an increase in gross operating profit of nearly 21 percent in the third quarter of this year compared to last year. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry) AP, file

New legislation in Pennsylvania encourages the expansion of the gambling industry by allowing up to 10 new casinos, but some municipalities in Centre County don’t want any in the area.

On Oct. 30, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, signed into law House Bill 271, which authorized gambling expansion opportunities through the state, such as creating up to 10 Category 4 slot machine licenses. (Twelve commercial casinos currently operate in Pennsylvania.)

Each Category 4 “mini” casino could operate between 300 and 750 slot machines and eventually up to 50 table games. None of these could be located within 25 linear miles of an existing Category 1, 2 or 3 casino, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. The exception would be for an operator opening a Category 4 casino within 25 miles of its own facility.

Municipalities are able to prohibit, or opt out of, a casino locating within its borders. In order to do this, the governing body of a municipality must send a resolution to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board by Dec. 31.

Several Centre County municipalities have already taken action to prohibit a casino, including Boggs, Harris, Howard, Ferguson and Patton townships and State College borough.

Allowing a mini casino in the area would be a “bad idea for all of us,” resident Barry Fenchak said at the Patton Township supervisors meeting on Dec. 13.

The majority of money that is gambled and lost will come from local folks, he said, and there are no “high-profile” jobs in a mini casino.

“For these little mini casinos, will this have a negative burden in terms of crime, drugs, unsavory things that are going to be brought into our communities?” said Casey McClain, magisterial district judge-elect.

In addition to passing the resolution, Patton Township Supervisor George Downsbrough suggested that the Planning Commission look at gambling regulations in general.

State College Borough Council President Tom Daubert said at the Nov. 20 meeting that he was strongly in favor of opting out.

“We have 40,000 students in the borough or right around the borough,” he said, “and I think that this would be a disaster for the student body of Penn State.”

Harris Township Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Frank Harden said at the meeting on Nov. 13 that the only way to have options later on is to pass the resolution before the deadline.

“I think you gotta leave your options on the table. I don’t think you just go and say ‘yes’ right now and eliminate that ‘no’ option,” Harden said.

So far, more than 400 municipalities statewide have opted out.

According to the state Gaming Control Board, a municipality that prohibits the location of a casino within its borders may rescind that prohibition, but once it’s done it cannot prohibit the location of a casino again.

College Township Council members are interested in the possibility of a casino opening in Nittany Mall.

The expansion legislation also includes other types of gambling, such as gambling at truck stops, online and at airports.

According to the Associated Press, lawmakers expect the gambling legislation to produce about $200 million annually in casino license fees and taxes.

In 2016, Pennsylvania had the second highest gross casino gaming revenue in the country — only behind Nevada, according to the American Gaming Association. The state’s casino industry brought in almost $1.4 billion in tax revenue last year — No. 1 in the nation.

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz

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