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North Hills

Board OKs ban on casinos in Ross

Tony LaRussa
| Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, 6:00 p.m.

While the odds are slim that one of 10 new mini-casinos the state has approved to help fund its budget deficit will end up in Ross Township, commissioners have already shown their cards on where they stand on the idea.

The board last week unanimously approved a resolution prohibiting a casino from opening in the township.

The law already contains a provision that one of the new casinos being permitted by the state cannot open with 25 miles of an existing casino. Ross is less than 7 miles from the Rivers Casino on Pittsburgh's North Shore.

The state approved the new gambling facilities — along with internet gambling, fantasy sports betting and allowing video gaming terminals at truck stops — to try to bring in $200 million or more in the first year through license fees and taxes to help cover a projected $2.2 billion budget shortfall.

But the 25-mile prohibition is not a guarantee that Ross or other surrounding communities won't have a casino popping up in their midst because the law doesn't apply to existing casinos that apply for a license to open a satellite facility.

The mini-casinos will be allowed to have between 300 and 750 slot machines and up to 50 gaming tables.

While Ross officials think the township's close proximity to the Rivers Casino means it's a safe bet that gaming won't be coming to the municipality, they aren't taking any chances.

“I don't think they (Rivers) are going to put a mini-casino a few miles away from where they are trying to draw people,” Commissioner David Mikec said. “But maybe we want to pass this just to cover ourselves.”

Commission President Jeremy Shaffer agreed.

“From a pure business perspective, there's no way they are going to do that,” he said before casting a vote to ban casinos from the township.

Manager Doug Sample noted that the state only gave municipalities until Jan. 1 to decide whether to keep casinos out of their communities.

If circumstances change and a future board wishes to open the township up to gaming, it can rescind the prohibition by passing a resolution, Sample said.

State law, however, only gives municipal officials one chance to change their minds.

If local officials undo their decision in the future, they will not be able to reconsider.

Pennsylvania's 12 existing casinos topped $3 billion in gambling revenue in 2016, making it the No. 2 state in the nation for commercial casino gambling revenue behind Nevada.

By Jan. 16, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will be required to hold the first blind auction for one of the licenses.

The minimum bid is $7.5 million, and only Pennsylvania's licensed casino owners can submit sealed bids.

The auction winner will get the choice of a site, with a prohibition against any other new casino within a 15-mile radius. A table games permit costs an extra $2.5 million.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-772-6368, or via Twitter @TonyLaRussaTrib.

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