Penn National Gaming wants to open a Hollywood Casino York in Springettsbury Township in the first half of 2020.
Some local business leaders, township officials and residents are eager to see an earlier start date for the new mini-casino — with its promise of hundreds of new jobs and added tax revenue.
Indeed, the public sentiment was mostly positive at a two-hour hearing held Thursday by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board at the township municipal building. The board is gathering feedback ahead of a licensing decision expected next year on the $120 million casino.
“We would much rather give our money to York County where we live,” said Pamela Baum, who addressed the board along with her brother, Patrick Hufnagle.
Baum and Hufnagle said they are frequent patrons of Penn National’s Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Dauphin County. The slimmed-down casino in York County would be just a few minutes away for the siblings.
“We grew up here; we were raised here,” Baum said. “I think this is a positive change for the community. It’s a good place to live, a good place to work and we’d like it to be a good place to play and gamble a little bit.”
Hollywood Casino York would occupy the lower level of a vacant Sears department store at the York Galleria. Penn National’s plan calls for the facility to open within 12 to 18 months of a construction start and to have about 500 slot machines and 20 table games — assuming its plan wins needed approvals.
Hollywood Casino York, which will be similar to the company’s operation in the Grantville area, is designed to eventually house up to 750 slot machines and 40 table games. In addition to a gambling parlor, the mini casino will include a casual restaurant and sports bar, a small entertainment lounge and a grab-and-go eatery. Berks County-based Penn National also plans to operate a racing and sports book at the new casino.
York County business leaders and township officials who spoke at the hearing Thursday offered their support for the project, viewing it as a boon for the local economy and a way to spur revitalization at the York Galleria. The mall has lost significant tenants in recent years, including the end this year of both Sears and Bon-Ton as anchors.
The casino is projected to create about 75 construction jobs and have about 200 full-time employees once it is operational. The average full-time employee is expected to make about $45,000 per year in salary and benefits.
The township will receive 2 percent of the gross revenue from the new casino’s slot machines and 1 percent from table games. Penn National expects that will amount to about $1 million annually.
Township officials believe the additional revenue from the casino will help them pay for facility and infrastructure upgrades, including stormwater improvements, giving the township greater financial flexibility. The added revenue could help avoid property tax increases.
Indeed, that’s what Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance, is expecting. The primary way to maintain property tax levels is by growing and diversifying the local tax base, he said. “This will do just that.”
Springettsbury Business Association representative Don Bishop said the association is in favor of all “reasonable” economic development projects in the township. And the casino project appears to be reasonable, he said.
Jon Meshel, vice president of development and redevelopment for mall owner CBL Properties, echoed those sentiments, calling this project a catalyst needed to revive the York Galleria.
“We strongly believe it is in the best interest of the property and the region,” he said.
Resident Steve Wolf believes the casino could make the York Galleria a success story as many malls struggle to survive in the face of online competitors like Amazon. To combat online competition, mall owners have been trying to attract smaller stores and nontraditional tenants, including more dining and entertainment, fitness and other service businesses.
But not everyone is happy about the casino proposal. Resident Bradley Culbertson, who lives in the Haines Acres neighborhood, brought a petition opposing the project. He collected 38 signatures from neighbors.
Culbertson said he doesn’t believe the casino will spark new business activity.
“People are just coming to gamble and to be entertained,” he said. “They are not coming to shop at the York Galleria mall.”
Closing off the Sears entrance in the mall, which Penn National has proposed doing for security purposes, could also hinder the mall’s ability to attract other retailers and restaurants that might hope to pick up foot traffic from the casino.
Other residents expressed concern about added traffic around the mall from the casino and whether the projected economic benefits will continue for the township after the first year of operations.
The board plans to hold another hearing on the mini-casino application in Harrisburg. That is not likely to occur until early 2019, officials said. At that hearing, Penn National will be able to offer more testimony and address additional board questions. A licensing decision would follow.