Towns across Pennsylvania opt out of hosting mini casinos
For North Irwin officials, it was an easy call to prohibit a satellite casino from being built in the borough — even if the odds of such happening within its quarter-square-mile borders are long.
Hosting a small casino would not help the borough's 900 residents, said Mary Swankler, North Irwin's manager-secretary-treasurer.
“They do not see it as a benefit,” she said of council's recent unanimous decision to opt out as a possible location for one of 10 satellite casinos that could soon be built in Pennsylvania. “We're not geographically suited to that business.”
North Irwin is surrounded by Irwin and North Huntingdon. Residential zoning accounts for 90 percent of the property, with the largest open space being the borough's ballfield, Swankler said. The quickest access to a major highway, Route 30, is through Irwin, she noted.
Of the nearly 200 municipalities statewide that have already informed the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board that they do not want to host a satellite casino, only South Huntingdon appears on the list from Westmoreland County.
Supervisor Richard Gates declined to comment on the issue, and fellow supervisors Eddie Troup and William Sherbondy could not be reached.
In Allegheny County, Thornburg, Harmar and Mt. Lebanon have removed themselves from consideration, as have about a dozen other communities scattered across Western Pennsylvania.
The majority of municipalities on the opt-out list are in Eastern Pennsylvania, with Lancaster (30) and Chester (24) counties having the most.
Under the state's gambling expansion law signed by Gov. Tom Wolf in October, municipalities have until Dec. 31 to decide whether they want to be considered as a potential location of a satellite casino — which will have 300 to 750 slot machines and up to 30 table games.
Municipalities that opt out can change that decision — and most townships voted against being a host location did so because they could reverse their decision, said Elam Herr, assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors.
“That just gives them a little more time to do their due diligence,” Herr said.
Westmoreland County abuts three counties with casinos — Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh; The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in North Strabane, Washington County; and the Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin in Farmington, Fayette County.
Those casinos benefit from Westmoreland customers, Latrobe Mayor Rosie Wolford said. She said she is not opposed to a casino, though Latrobe officials have yet to vote on the issue.
“I want to hear more about it,” Wolford said.
One argument for expanding gambling in Pennsylvania has been its economic impact.
Gambling has provided the state with more than $6 billion in revenue and more than 34,000 direct and indirect jobs, said Steve Doty, a spokesman for the American Gaming Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group representing the $240 billion U.S. gaming industry.
“It's only going to increase gaming's positive economic impact across the state,” Doty said of plans to add satellite casinos.Chad Amond, executive director of the Westmoreland Chamber of Commerce, focuses on the $145 million Washington County has received in taxes and local share money since the Meadows opened its casino in 2009.
“Those are dollars that are able to be spent on economic development,” Amond said.
The Route 30 corridor that cuts through the center of Westmoreland County, from Allegheny to Somerset counties, would be an ideal location for a casino, Amond said.
There's “definitely a show of support” among local officials for a satellite casino, he said.
The prospects of an economic bonanza through jobs and money did not sway opponents who fought three proposals for a casino near the Gettysburg National Military Park in Adams County. Freedom Township voters in November overwhelmingly rejected the latest plan to build a casino a few miles south of the hallowed battlefield, said Susan Paddock, chairwoman of No Casino Gettysburg.
“It would have changed the character of the community. People just don't like living in a ‘casino town,' ” said Paddock, who noted concerns that a casino could possibly hurt property values.
The three existing casinos in Southwestern Pennsylvania are holding their cards close when it comes to revealing whether they want to open a satellite casino in Westmoreland County. Bids on licenses to operate the mini casinos will be received in January, with opening bids set at $7.5 million, according to the gaming control board.
It is “way too early” for any decisions on whether to bid for one, said Roxann M. Kinkade, a spokeswoman for Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. of Las Vegas, which owns the Meadows.
Pinnacle will be involved in a pre-auction meeting with the gaming control board, she said.
Rivers Casino declined to comment on what its plans might be. Eldorado Resorts LLC of Reno, owner of Lady Luck Casino Nemacolin, has not yet made a decision about whether to seek a satellite casino license, spokesman Joseph Jaffoni said.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.