Pennsylvania Towns’ Satellite Casino Opt-Out Deadline Passes, More Than 900 Just Say ‘No’

Posted on: January 2, 2018, 11:00h. 

Last updated on: January 2, 2018, 11:03h.

Pennsylvania towns have now made their voices heard when it comes to embracing mini-casinos, or not, in their various burghs.

Pennsylvania satellite casino gambling
Outside of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, more than 900 Pennsylvania towns are saying “no” to the casino expansion package Democratic Governor Tom Wolf signed into law in late 2017. (Image: Office of Governor Tom Wolf)

One minute before midnight Eastern time on December 31 marked the deadline for local officials to notify the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) whether they were opting out of the Category 4 satellite casino bidding process. As of late last week, 936 boroughs and townships had done just that.

On January 10, the PGCB will hold its first auction for the so-called “mini-casinos.” The state’s 10 current Category 1 and 2 license holders will be able to submit sealed bids, with the highest offer over the $7.5 million minimum winning first dibs on the locality of their choosing.

With those 936 towns accounting for nearly 37 percent of Pennsylvania’s 2,560 municipalities, and a stipulation that the satellites cannot be built within 25 linear miles of an existing gambling venue, the potential host location pool is now more of a puddle.

Philadelphia and most of its surrounding regions are out, as are all 60 municipalities in Lancaster County. State College, home to Penn State University where over 100,000 fans pack Beaver Stadium for Saturday fall football games, has also turned away from gambling.

Gettysburg, thought to be another preferred satellite casino target, due to its strong annual tourism, is now additionally off the board.

The most recent list of opt-outs from the PGCB came after the close of business on December 28. It’s unclear if any additional municipalities filed resolutions to ban gambling over the last three days before the deadline.

Each satellite venue will be permitted to house up to 750 slot machines, and 30 table games. Table games will require an additional $2.5 million permit fee, on top of the casino operator’s winning bid.

Casinos Welcomed

Despite the lengthy list of town councils telling the state’s commercial gaming operators they aren’t welcome, numerous municipalities remain that might be attractive.

At the top is Reading, the state’s fifth-largest city in terms of population. Last month, the city council, with support from Mayor Wally Scott, unanimously approved being included in the Category 4 process.

Lawrence County, which is located 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh between the heavily traveled Interstate 80 and Pennsylvania Turnpike, has also said its open to being a host city.

Altoona, Williamsport, and York, which all have a Penn State satellite campus, have additionally stayed in the running for a mini-casino.

Expansion Details

The highest bidder on January 10 will be able to secure a 15-mile area for its satellite casino. The gaming operator will then have six months to pinpoint an exact location for the venue.

Slot revenue will be taxed at the mini-casinos at an effective rate of 54 percent, with four percent earmarked for the local county and municipality. Table games will be taxed at 14 percent, with four percent reserved for the local government.

Along with ten Category 4 licenses, Pennsylvania’s gaming expansion package signed into law by Governor Tom Wolf (D) last fall authorizes terminals in certain truck stops, online gambling, daily fantasy sports, airport gambling lounges, and creates regulations for sports betting should a change come to the current federal ban.