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Best bets: Where would a casino go in York County?

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After Penn National Gaming won the right to open the first of Pennsylvania 10 new mini-casinos, municipalities in York County began sizing up whether or where they want to host a new gambling parlor.

Penn National focused its bid around Yoe, a small borough near Dallastown and Red Lion and about 10 miles from the Maryland border. Under state law, Penn National can build the mini-casino anywhere within 15 miles of the borough that hasn't prohibited the new casinos, or a 30-mile area in diameter.

That focus turns several municipalities into leading contenders for the mini-casino, economic development officials said, including West Manchester Township and West York, whose officials say they are open to proposals.

Also in that group is Springettsbury Township, one of 38 York County municipalities that opted out at the end of last year to host a mini-casino. The newly authorized parlors, called Category 4 casinos, can house 300 to 750 slot machines and up to 40 table games.

Springettsbury officials said that opt-out was largely due to the short window they had to act after Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation expanding casino-style gambling, designed to raise state revenue.  

The township, which is east of York, could reconsider that decision if Penn National covets Springettsbury Township. It is close to the city of York and has a relatively high concentration of county residents.

Springettsbury also benefits from easy access to Interstate 83 and Route 30, which casino operators like, and it's within the 15-mile radius from Yoe.

State law gives municipalities a one-time right to opt back in to allowing a mini-casino. All they have to do is pass another resolution and send it to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, said Doug Harbach, a spokesman for the agency. That can be done at any time.

Springettsbury Township manager Ben Marchant said Thursday that discussions have started, with township staff looking into potential zoning and land-use changes for a future casino. However, no decisions have been made to introduce a new resolution. 

Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance had pre-bid conversations with Penn National about possible locations in York County. He said he believes the local casino will likely end up close to the city and not in the more rural southern end of the county, which is closer to Baltimore.

Nearby West Manchester Township is among the most likely destinations, he said. And the township is receptive to a proposal, added Kelly Kelch, township manager.

"We looked at it and didn't see any detrimental impacts if sited appropriately," Kelch said.

That said, the township hasn't assessed what land might be available for a casino, which could require 25 to 35 acres, according to Schreiber. Construction is likely to exceed $100 million.

Kelch said he doesn't believe a casino would have a negative impact on crime or traffic in the township. But it would deliver new tax revenue to support local infrastructure projects, as well as local police and fire services, he said.

West York Mayor Shawn Mauck also would welcome a casino in his borough or a neighboring municipality.

Mauck and Schreiber said a casino at or near the York Fairgrounds could make a lot of sense. It would be a prominent project in that area and provide a "wonderful synergy" to what is already going on in the city.

The West York mayor also believes the casino could pair well with a convention center and hotel and be another selling point for tourism officials to help attract large events and convention business to York County. 

Given restrictions on how close new casinos can be located to existing gambling facilities, it is likely that the new casino in York County will be the only one of the 10 to impact Central Pennsylvania.

"We can't miss an opportunity like this," Mauck said.

Deadline

Penn National has until 4 p.m. Friday to submit its $50.1 million bid payment to the board, Harbach said.

Penn National, which also is suing to block the construction of the new casinos because it believes the law would hurt Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course more than other casinos, has six months to complete its formal application, including plans for the casino. 

The law does permit winning bidders to request a two-month extension on the application, Harbach said.

Penn National said it bid on the new license in part as a defensive strategy to protect its investments in Hollywood Casino, which is in Dauphin County. The company has long operated an off-track wagering facility off Route 30 in Manchester Township near York.

If Penn National fails to meet the application deadlines this year, it would lose its bid money. If its application is denied during the review process, it could recoup 75 percent of its bid, Harbach said.

One option not available to Penn National is sitting on the license to prevent local competition, Harbach said. If the company does not follow through with an application, it would be out the $50 million. The board could then hold a new auction in the future for that license and a new operator could develop a casino. 

 

This section has been updated to include Penn National's off-track wagering facility in York County.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jscott@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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Gaming Guy January 15, 2018 5:14 pm

The mini casinos are not going to increase tax revenue and if it does it will be a such a slight margin, those looking for the benefits will never see it. It's going to cannibalize the existing over saturated gaming market. It will create a few jobs that will train people in gaming so they can leave for better markets. But gaming that thrives on the locals, especially in areas with lower median incomes, always brings social heath issues such as problem gaming. But the State is going to fix all that ails it with 10 mini casinos. Only large gaming operators can pay the fees and the bids so it takes the profit out of the state to large public companies. What a disaster for the people of PA.

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