Pennsylvania Gambling Bill Provides Unusual Protections for One Very Special Casino

Posted on: November 13, 2017, 05:30h. 

Last updated on: November 14, 2017, 07:22h.

The Pennsylvania gambling package that was passed by the state’s General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Tom Wolf (D) late last month is a massive 939-page document.

Pennsylvania gambling Mount Airy
State Rep. Maureen Madden (right) voted for the Pennsylvania gambling package to expand casinos across the Commonwealth, but might have craftily made sure none were coming to her district. (Image: Rep. Maureen Madden)

And slipped into the complex legal jargon are 28 words that are presumably worth millions of dollars for the Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Pocono Mountains.

The biggest expansion in the bill is the allowance for up to 10 satellite casinos to be built across the Commonwealth. But the facilities, which will cost licensed operators $10 million for up to 750 slot machines and 30 tables, are barred from being placed within 25 miles of current casinos.

The exception comes on page 573 of the legislation in an amendment that confusingly reads, “A Category 4 slot machine license may not be located in a sixth-class county which is contiguous to a county that hosts a Category 2 licensed facility.”

Category 4 casinos are the designations for the satellites. Mount Airy is a Category 2 casino.

The carve out means three counties that surround Mount Airy’s Monroe County are barred from applying to become a satellite casino host. Carbon, Wayne, and Pike counties are the three sixth-class counties adjacent to Monroe, and the only sixth-class counties that sit next to a county with a current Category 2 casino.

Sixth-class counties in Pennsylvania have populations between 45,000 to 89,999.

No lawmaker has specifically taken credit for Mount Airy’s special treatment, but State Rep. Maureen Madden, a Democrat whose legislative district incorporates the casino, said in a statement, “I voted yes on this bill… I don’t get to vote ‘yes’ on some parts of the bill and ‘no’ on others. I can try and amend bills.”

Profitable Region

The Pennsylvania gambling law language protects Mount Airy in the northeast part of the state. That might not seem like the most coveted market, as the rural region isn’t densely populated like southeastern Pennsylvania or out west in Pittsburgh.

But the Pocono Mountains remain a popular winter retreat for many in surrounding states, most notably New Jersey and New York. The Category 2 and 4 and sixth-county wording extends Mount Airy’s protections from 25 miles to as far as 60 miles.

Combined, Mount Airy is now surrounded by over 2,260 acres of land that cannot welcome another casino.

Lawsuit Coming?

Penn National Gaming, the first gaming operator in Pennsylvania and owner of Hollywood Casino near Harrisburg, says it’s exploring legal options regarding the gambling expansion package. Company spokesman Eric Schippers said Mount Airy’s protections constitutes “unequal treatment.”

“What’s upsetting to us is that Penn National is being uniquely negatively impacted by this massive expansion of gaming. At the same time, they give this gift to Mount Airy,” Schippers told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In addition to the satellite casinos, the new gaming law authorizes online gambling and daily fantasy sports, slot machines in truck stops, airport gaming terminals, and creates sports betting regulations.