Pennsylvania Casino Plan Divides Conservative Amish Community, Gaming Opponents Say ‘Deal With Devil’

Posted on: April 15, 2019, 05:23h. 

Last updated on: April 16, 2019, 08:24h.

A Pennsylvania casino plan in a rural conservative community with Amish residents has plenty of opponents who are trying to block the gaming venue from being built.

Pennsylvania casino Penn National Hollywood
Not everyone is thrilled about a casino coming to a small Pennsylvania town. (Image: David Swanson/Philadelphia Inquirer)

Penn National Gaming – the oldest casino operator in the Keystone State – last year secured the rights to a satellite casino featuring as many as 750 slot machines and 30 table games with a winning $10.5 million bid. The casino company pinpointed its 15-mile radius around Morgantown.

The selected site for Hollywood Casino Morgantown – as the property will be known – is at the intersection of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Interstate 176. There are many opponents who believe such an attraction goes against the community’s values.

This is not a community like Las Vegas where ‘what happens here, stays here,'” Rev. Coleen Brandt Painter, declared. The pastor’s United Methodist Church is behind a petition that has more than 1,000 signatures opposing the casino.

“This is a community where everybody knows your name, and your business, and we like it that way,” he explained.

Deal With Devil

Morgantown didn’t opt out of the Category 4 mini-casino application process. The gaming venues were approved by the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf (D) in the fall of 2017 to help bridge a budget cap.

To date, the state has collected almost $128 million in licensing fees for five satellite casinos.

Officials in Caernarvon Township – home to Morgantown – say the proposed casino would deliver $1.6 million in annual tax revenue to the area, which is about 62 percent of the town’s yearly budget. Penn National’s plan says the casino would create 255 construction jobs, and 250 subsequent full-time positions.

For opponents, the economic benefits don’t justify going against the region’s morals.

“In every way, it’s incongruent with this community,” Sam Rohrer, the president of the American Pastors Network and a former state representative, told the Associated Press. He likened the project to a “deal with the devil.”

Caernarvon Township Board of Supervisors Chair Allen Stryer III said many of the expressed concerns are being overblown. “The kind of stuff they were bringing up is crazy. I don’t foresee any additional human trafficking or murder-for-hire in our town.”

Gaming Appetite

Penn National was opposed to the 2017 expanded gaming act, but reluctantly bid on the satellites in order to protect its regional customer base surrounding its flagship Hollywood Casino Penn National property near the Harrisburg state capital.

Along with the satellites, the gambling package authorized sports betting, airport gaming lounges, slot machines at certain diesel truck stops, and online gambling. There were worries regarding oversaturating the gaming industry in Pennsylvania, and Wolf said at the time that he wants “real revenue” and not poach from “one bucket called gambling to another.”

However, this week the gross gaming revenue (GGR) report from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board shows that the industry is alive and well. March casino win totaled $309.1 million, an all-time record and just the second time the $300 million threshold has been eclipsed.