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Pa. lawmaker hoping to revive mini-casino auctions

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A Carbon County lawmaker is hoping to revive the auction process for the state's five remaining mini-casino licenses after it came to a halt in April.

Republican Rep. Doyle Heffley has begun seeking co-sponsors for a proposed bill that would require the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to auction off the five remaining licenses.

A total of 10 mini-casino licenses were up for grabs this year following the passage last year of a gambling expansion bill. But only five were snapped up at auctions held between January and early April.

No bids were received at the last auction, held on April 18. The board also received no bids at an early March auction, but that cleared the way for previous winners to bid again on April 4.

Berks County-based Penn National Gaming, which won the first auction in January, was the high bidder for the fifth license on April 4. The April 18 auction followed and the process was shelved. 

"This is money on the table and I feel we could still use it if we can get the ball rolling again," Heffley said. "I think it could be a benefit to the community."

The first five licenses sold for as much as $50.1 million and as little as $7.5 million, the minimum bid.

Heffley said he believes there may be more interest from Pennsylvania casino operators and other qualified entities interested in running a gambling parlor if the law is changed to remove some geographic restrictions.

For example, Carbon County, a sixth-class county in the state's coal region and also part of the Pocono Mountains region, is ineligible for a satellite casino because it shares a border with a county that hosts a Category 2 facility, Mount Airy Casino Resort is in Monroe County.

Counties that already host Category 3, or resort, casinos, also cannot host a mini-casino. Also known as Category 4 casinos, mini-casinos can house 300 to 750 slot machines and up to 40 table games.

"I would welcome any amendments by others who want to see their county included," Heffley said.

Under state law, mini-casinos also cannot be built within 25 miles of an existing casino, unless an existing casino is building it as a satellite location.

The board has not yet decided if it will hold additional auctions for the remaining licenses. A spokesman said the agency had no comment on Heffley's proposal.

Heffley said he would like to see a bill introduced this fall, but he recognizes that legislative session days are limited. State lawmakers also begin a new two-year legislative cycle in 2019, so any legislation not passed this year would need to be reintroduced.

As Heffley tries to gather support for his bill, winning bidders have started to pick locations for their mini-casino projects.

Penn National, the owner of Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in East Hanover Township, is expected to be next with a Sept. 12 deadline to decide on a location for York County.

Penn National is looking at southern Berks County for its second mini-casino license.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

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

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