Casino operators cashed in on expansion opportunities in 2018
State gaming regulators will have some big decisions to make next year, including whether to approve licenses for new mini-casinos allowed under a 2017 gambling expansion bill.
Casino operators spent much of this year bidding on available licenses at state auctions and picking out locations for the smaller-sized casinos.
In total, five mini-casino licenses were auctioned off in 2018, including two to Berks County-based Penn National Gaming for projects in Berks and York counties.
Mini-casinos, known as Category 4 casinos, can house 300 to 750 slot machines and up to 40 table games. Plans for some of the new gambling parlors started rolling in over the summer and fall. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has held three public hearings on the proposals.
Hearings were held on Nov. 1 for Penn National's Hollywood Casino York project, on Dec. 4 for a mini casino in Beaver County and on Dec. 5 for one in Westmoreland County.
The gaming control board has not yet scheduled hearings the two remaining mini-casino plans — Penn National's Berks County project and a casino in Shippensburg Township from Parx Casino — but officials said meetings are expected to be held in the first quarter of 2019.
After community meetings, the board still needs to hold licensing hearings before making final decisions on mini-casino applications. None of the follow-up hearings have been scheduled, but officials have said they are likely to occur in early 2019.
If licenses are approved, local construction approvals would still be needed. Penn National has said construction could take 12 to 18 months for the York County facility, which would mean a 2020 opening.
Here are some of the top gambling headlines from the year:
Feedback mostly positive at hearing for Hollywood Casino York: Community leaders and residents weighed in on the York County mini-casino plan in early November.
Pa. lawmaker hoping to revive mini-casino auctions: Five of 10 approved mini-casino licenses remain available in Pennsylvania. There has been a legislative push to change the gambling law to remove some geographic restrictions, which could spark new interest in licenses. 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 in Monroe County.
Hollywood Casino could be first in Pa. to offer sports betting: Penn National became the first casino operator to apply for sports betting in August. Sports betting operations recently went live in Pennsylvania.
Penn National wins second mini-casino license for $7.5M: After winning the first mini-casino license auction in early 2018, Penn National was the first casino operator to acquire a second license.
Mini-casinos in Pennsylvania: 1,000-plus municipalities opt out: Many municipalities in Pennsylvania decided early on that they did not want mini-casinos within their borders. Some local governments have since changed their mind, including Springettsbury Township, and opted back in.
Best bets: Where would a casino go in York County?: After Penn National won the first mini-casino license auction, speculation began about where it might go.
Hollywood Casino Morgantown would have economic impact, township says: Local officials in Berks County weigh in on the planned mini-casino project from Penn National.