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National study bolsters Pennsylvania's stature as gambling state

| Friday, May 10, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

A new American Gaming Association study burnishes Pennsylvania's reputation as one of the country's most popular, and profitable, gambling regions.

Three areas of the state rank among the top 20 American casino markets for gambling revenue: Philadelphia at No. 6, the Poconos (Sands Bethlehem, Mt. Airy and Mohegan Sun) at No. 9 and Pittsburgh/North Strabane at No. 17. The state ranks No. 2 in gambling revenue and No. 1 in casino tax revenue. Philadelphia is the No. 1 racetrack casino market, with The Meadows at No. 9 and Hollywood Penn National at No. 10.

“I think Pennsylvania has been one of great success stories in our industry over the last few years,” says Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., the association's president and CEO.

The Las Vegas Strip remains the country's No. 1 spot, posting $6.21 billion in gambling revenue last year, double Atlantic City's $3 billion. With $3.16 billion in revenue from 11 casinos, Pennsylvania is the No. 2 gambling state, behind Nevada's $10.86 billion.

The figures are part of AGA's annual “State of the States” report, which provides an in-depth look at gambling and gamblers.

“It's clear that both the present and future look bright for the U.S. gaming industry,” Fahrenkopf says in a conference call. Nationwide, gross gambling revenue at the country's commercial casinos rose for the third consecutive year, totaling $37.34 billion, the second-largest amount on record. That reflects revenue from standalone, riverboat and racetrack casinos licensed by a state; it does not count Native American operations.

Last year, Ohio became the 23rd state with casinos. AGA says 464 land-based or riverboat commercial casinos operate nationwide, plus 49 racetrack casinos.

The report reinforces the idea that Pennsylvania's gambling fans were “underserved,” says Doug Harbach, director of communications for the state's Gaming Control Board.

The state's first casino, Mohegan Sun, opened in November 2006; it and others were slots-only facilities until table games were added in 2010.

Gambling's expansion continues, with the 12th casino, Lady Luck at Nemacolin, set to open this summer in Fayette County. The Gaming Control Board conducted hearings this week on two major Philadelphia projects. One would double the size of SugarHouse casino, which is one of the state's smallest; the other would add a casino, which Harbach says could open in two or three years, depending on construction time and probable court challenges after the license is awarded.

Also, developers of a proposed Lawrence County racetrack casino are to submit their plans to regulators by the end of this month.

Pennsylvania casinos face competition from neighboring states, including Maryland and Ohio, which added casinos last year. Harbach says those are following the Pennsylvania model of locating casinos in population centers, fostering a “market of convenience.”

Fahrenkopf, who retires next month after leading AGA since its founding 17 years ago, says he can cite only two markets where increased competition harmed existing casinos. One is Atlantic City, which he says was slow to modernize and had come to rely too heavily on gamblers making the 1 12-hour trip from Philadelphia. Five Pennsylvania casinos have opened in or near Philadelphia since 2006. He says Reno and northern Nevada were also hurt by tribal casinos opening around Sacramento, Calif.

The path to casino survival is adding attractions, he says.

“Markets that produce the most desirable casinos — whether it's hotels, the best shows, the best restaurants, the best facilities — are going to profit,” Fahrenkopf says. “Those that don't improve may get hurt. That's Mr. Market.”

Mark Gruetze is administrative editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7838 or

Mountaineer offers satellites for World Series of Poker event

Mountaineer in Chester, W.Va., apparently will be the region's only casino offering World Series of Poker satellite tournaments.

The first one offering spots in the $10,000-per-seat WSOP Main Event will be at 12:30 p.m. May 12, with another set for May 26. One Main Event seat and $1,000 cash will be awarded for every 50 entrants. Buy-in is $245; each player starts with $8,000 in chips, and blinds increase every 20 minutes. The Main Event starts July 6 in Las Vegas.

Other WSOP satellites: 12:30 p.m. on May 11, $80 buy-in, one spot in $1,000-per-seat WSOP Ladies Tournament and $500 cash awarded for every 25 entrants; 5 p.m. on May 15, $80 buy-in, one seat in $1,000 seniors tournaments and $500 cash awarded for every 25 entrants.

All winners must take a WSOP seat and make their own travel arrangements.

Money trail

Slot players lost $48.47 million at Pennsylvania's 11 casinos during the week ending May 5, the Gaming Control Board reports. That's down from $50.33 million in the comparable week last year.

The state gets 55 percent of that gross slot revenue, or what's left of players' wagers after jackpots are paid.

Statewide, the slot payout rate is 89.92 percent since the fiscal year started July 1. For every $100 bet, the machines return an average of $89.92. Highest payout rate: 90.61 percent at Parx in Philadelphia; lowest: 89.36 percent at Hollywood Penn National near Harrisburg.

Figures for Western Pennsylvania casinos:


Rivers; weekly slot revenue of $5.44 million, up from $5.09 million last year.


Meadows; weekly slot revenue of $4.61 million, down from $5.08 million last year.


Presque Isle in Erie; weekly slot revenue of $2.75 million, down from $3.3 million last year.

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