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Bally’s gets green light for State College casino project

Bally's casino news

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) has given licensing approval for Bally’s to run the state’s fifth mini-casino. The news comes amid objections by a competing gaming company that was unable to get the bid, and community residents who oppose the casino due to its proximity to Penn State University.

On Wednesday, PGCB members unanimously voted to approve the 94,000-square-foot casino following an almost two-hour public hearing. Bally’s can now carry out its $123 million casino proposal to redevelop the old Macy’s department store located at the Nittany Mall in College Township, Centre County.

Philadelphia financier Ira Lubert was awarded Pennsylvania’s Category 4 satellite casino after winning a September 2020 auction. He then selected College Township as the site for the gaming venue and partnered with Rhode Island-based Bally’s Corporation. Lubert is the founder and owner of SC Gaming OpCo LLC and has a 3% stake in Rivers Casino Pittsburgh.

On Wednesday, The Cordish Companies again contested the license award. Lubert’s $10 million bid beat out the Baltimore-based firm during the September 2020 auction.

High bidders were mandated by the Gaming Act to submit their applications for a Category 4 license within six months of the state auction. According to Cordish, since Lubert collaborated with Bally’s and made the operator a pivotal investor to SC Gaming OpCo, he failed to properly turn in his license application as required by the state’s Gaming Act.

“Mr. Lubert did not submit an application for the slot machine license. Instead, he formed an investment group, parceled off ownership and control interests in that group, put forward an applicant (SC Gaming), and is seeking a license for interests that are substantively different from Mr. Lubert,” said Mark Aronchick, Cordish’s attorney.

Cordish also stated that the board should negate the bid if Lubert was found to have used resources from his investors to fund his initial $10 million payment to the PGCB.

READ: BettingPlanet’s guide to gambling in Pennsylvania

Lubert’s attorneys claimed that the day after winning the bid, he sent the $10 million from his personal bank account. They also said that Lubert could fund the entire project if he needed to. His creation of SC Gaming OpCo and other companies to develop the mini-casino was in line with what other Pennsylvanian gaming companies, Cordish included, have done.

The chief enforcement council for the PGCB, Cyrus Pitre, was won over by the viewpoint, and the board rejected Cordish’s claims. This was on the grounds that after the agency’s staff had conducted an extensive review of Lubert’s application, there was no evidence of its unsuitability or that he had done anything not unheard of in the industry.

Cordish made the same claims in its lawsuit filed in Commonwealth Court which awaits a ruling.

If the company intends to file an appeal of the board’s decision on Wednesday, it will have to do so within 30 days. The appeal will be made to the state Supreme Court and serve to delay the license issuance.

Besides Cordish, hundreds of residents in the State College area have expressed opposition to the new casino. The gaming board has received many letters stating that commercial gambling was foreign to the area’s general character, mainly due to the several thousand Penn State University students living a short distance away.

Other than a brief mention by Lubert’s attorney Adrian King, there was no acknowledgment of the public opposition during the hearing on Wednesday. King stated that despite the current opposition, there were positive comments at a previous public hearing held in August 2021.

The attorney further said that rather than the merits of the casino project, the growth of the community’s opposition was a result of a widespread distaste for commercial gambling.

College Township failed to pull out its candidacy to be a Category 4 host location before the August 2019 deadline announced by the PGCB. Due to this, the board could not deny the casino proposal solely due to recent public outcry.

Despite the possible delay Cordish’s Commonwealth Court case could cause, Eric Pearson, the prospective casino general manager of the gaming venue, revealed that it would take around a year and $35 million to turn the former department store into a gaming venue.

The new casino will have a non-smoking rule and boast as many as 750 slot machines. For an additional fee of $2.5 million, it can seek 30 table games as an initial allotment and $10 million for sports betting. Other amenities include a restaurant and bar, food court, live entertainment, and between 350 to 400 permanent jobs.

Lubert — a Penn State University graduate who served on the university’s board of trustees afterward for 17 years — told the PGCB that the new gaming hall was an opportunity to aid in the revitalization of the Nittany Mall as well as the community’s economy.

“Brick-and-mortar retail shopping has taken its lumps. … Shopping malls in particular have been hit hard, and this includes the Nittany Mall. With Penn State’s immense alumni base and other visitors and tourists flooding throughout the year, not just during football season, we will provide a new entertainment venue that everyone can enjoy,” he said.

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