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Westmoreland officials dream of casino jackpot

Rich Cholodofsky
| Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, 5:03 p.m.
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Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
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Greensburg and other parts of Westmoreland County might be prime targets as a home to one of 10 mini casinos being planned across Pennsylvania.

A large swath of the county — specifically east of Jeannette and north of New Stanton — falls outside an exclusion zone that bars outside casinos from operating new facilities within 25 miles of existing ones.

Greensburg, Latrobe and other parts of the county stand outside the market radius of all three free-standing casinos in Western Pennsylvania: Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, the Meadows Racetrack & Casino in Washington County and Lady Luck Casino at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Fayette County.

“We've been adamant for years that Westmoreland would be a good place for a casino,” said Jason Rigone, the county's planning director. “With our population size and local area, Westmoreland County should certainly be considered, and hopefully under this new law we will be looked at.”

State lawmakers last month authorized creating 10 satellite casinos that each could host up to 750 slot machines and as many as 40 table games. Gov. Tom Wolf signed the plan into law.

The process for approving those satellite casinos will be accelerated.

Licenses for the smaller casinos will be auctioned by the end of July, said Doug Harbach, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. The first auction is scheduled Jan. 15.

The state's 12 existing casinos will bid on reserving a location for a satellite casino. Winning bidders will have exclusive rights to build a casino within a 15-mile area of their reserved location, Harbach said.

“Once there is an auction, the winning bidder will have six months to provide an application with a specific plan and location for a casino,” Harbach said.

The 25-mile exclusion zone only affects casinos looking to move into a region near an existing facility operated by a different owner. Casinos can bid to have their own satellites anywhere within 25 miles of their home facility, according to the new law.

For Westmoreland County, the prospect of a casino, even a small one, has officials dreaming of dollar signs.

“If you look at the money Washington County has reaped from its casino, it offers great potential for Westmoreland as well,” said Westmoreland County Commissioner Ted Kopas.

According to figures from the state's gaming control board, Washington County and municipalities there have received more than $148 million in tax revenue since the Meadows casino opened in 2007.

Tax revenue from a casino would be a local benefit, said Chad Amond, president and CEO of the Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce.

“We have surrounding counties getting money to fund their economic development, and we are losing to those counties,” Amond said. “It's a frustrating process for us. If there is an opportunity to bring these dollars here to Westmoreland, that's a good thing for us.”

Latrobe Mayor Rosie Wolford said a local casino would be a boon to residents.

“It would help us bring in revenue, so we wouldn't be opposed to it. We're losing a lot of revenue from our residents who are leaving the county to gamble,” Wolford said.

Communities that don't want to be considered for a satellite casino have until the end of December to notify the state gaming board.

As of Monday, seven towns had indicated they do not want to host a casino, according to the board's website. None is in Western Pennsylvania.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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