Penn State Casino Hearing Yields Passionate Opinions From Both Sides

Posted on: August 17, 2021, 04:00h. 

Last updated on: August 17, 2021, 04:37h.

The proposed Penn State casino garnered plenty of feedback from locals during a hearing this week held by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB).

Penn State casino Bally's Nittany Mall
A student walks across the Old Main lawn at Penn State University in the fall. A casino project targeting the nearby Nittany Mall is set to be decided in the coming months. (Image: AP)

Residents, area officials, business owners, and parents of university students turned out for the public meeting, held last night at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center. Opinions regarding allowing a casino at the nearby Nittany Mall were mixed.

Penn State University alumnus and former board trustee Ira Lubert has partnered with Bally’s to invest $123 million to transform the former Macy’s department store at the mall into a Category 4 casino.

This will create jobs and help drive the region’s economy. And with Penn State’s immense alumni base and other visitors flooding into the area throughout the year, not just football season, we will provide a new entertainment venue that everyone can enjoy,” Lubert told attendees.

Bally’s CEO Eric Pearson argued that the project will give life to the desolate mall.

“We really envision the casino being able to serve as a catalyst for revitalization within the Nittany Mall, which is currently at about 50 percent occupied,” Pearson said.

Casino Pros and Cons

Bally’s plans to overhaul the roughly 94,000-square-foot mall space into a casino with up to 750 slot machines, 30 table games, and a sportsbook. A restaurant and bar, and a small entertainment space where a DJ or the likes could perform is additionally included.

Representatives from the Nittany Mall said the mall’s customer is aging, as younger people tend to more frequently shop online. They believe the casino could lure back residents under the age of 40, as well as Penn State students.

Once viewed as a community asset, the mall is becoming more of an eyesore. Lubert said a casino could draw new businesses to the mall itself and the surrounding area. John Delozier, managing partner for the Nittany Hotel Group, agrees.

“This proposed casino will certainly be a major contributor to our recovery as a hospitality industry and as a community,” opined Delozier. Opponents countered that casinos hurt — not help — communities.

There are more poor people in Centre County than most citizens recognize. A casino will not provide sustenance for the poor, underemployed, and desperate,” declared Carl Miller, a Bellefonte resident. “On the contrary, casino gambling entices the poor to risk an already inadequate means of support on an exceedingly slim chance of financial gain.”

A retired United Methodist pastor added that gambling is “a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic and spiritual life, destructive of good government and good stewardship.”

Next Steps

Ira Lubert obtained the Category 4 casino license last September when he won the gaming permit auction round with a $10 million bid. A consulting firm hired by College Township, where the Nittany Mall is located, concluded in an in-depth review that the proposed casino would have a “negligible” impact on the township’s traffic, water and sewer infrastructure, tourism, and police and first responder services.   

The PGCB plans to hold a meeting in Harrisburg this fall to further evaluate the Nittany Mall casino project. At that time, the seven-member board will vote whether to allow the Bally’s development to move forward.