Echoing the support of the mayor, the Reading City Council voted unanimously on Monday to pass a resolution urging the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission to approve plans for a satellite casino.
The decision comes just days after Reading Mayor Wally Scott told the Reading Eagle that he fully supported the idea of bringing a mini-casino to his city.
“We are in full support of this,” Councilman Jeffrey Waltman said. “Our message is, ‘Take a very close look at us, because we’re here to support the effort.’”
The possibility of bringing such a venue to the municipality came after a major gambling expansion package was signed into law in October by Gov. Tom Wolf (D) after gaining broad support from the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
Along with regulating online gambling, the new law also allowed for up to 10 satellite casino licenses, provided that any new gaming facilities were located at least 25 miles from any existing casino resorts in the state.
These new satellite casinos would be allowed to operate between 300 and 750 slot machines, as well as a maximum of 30 table games when they first open.
Current casino operators can bid on building and operating the new venues, with each company able to submit sealed bids on proposed projects in early 2018. Municipalities have until December 31 to opt out of consideration for such a facility.
In Reading, there was relatively little pushback on the idea of allowing a mini-casino, at least among the members of the City Council. While multiple councilmembers brought up concerns about problem gambling and other social ills, they did so in a way that suggested the city and state were prepared to deal with them.
Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz pointed out that the state had already set aside funding for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling. Meanwhile, Councilman John Slifko said that on balance, the casino would do more good than harm.
“With gambling facilities, there are always negatives, but the positives far outweigh them,” Slifko said. “This is an opportunity to help with the revitalization of downtown. Gambling is going to go somewhere; we might as well have it here and reap some of the good aspects.”
The new Pennsylvania law allows smaller cities such as Reading, with a population of nearly 90,000, to compete as a gaming destination. Located near two major interstate highways, Reading is one of the more attractive possibilities for operators as different communities compete for the opportunity to get in on casino action.
But there are also several towns and cities specifically opting out. More than 150 municipalities have already withdrawn themselves from consideration, with more seemingly doing so every day. The governor’s hometown of Mount Wolf Borough is among the jurisdictions telling casino companies to stay away.
On Monday, at least two more local governments declared they would not be seeking a mini-casino. In Lock Haven, the City Council was split, but ultimately passed a resolution barring such venues from being built in the town. Meanwhile, the Portage Borough Council voted 4-2 in favor of banning such satellite gaming facilities in their municipality as well.