Reading, Pennsylvania, officials are considering allowing one of the state’s 10 land-based casino operators to build a satellite gaming facility in the town.
Reading Mayor Wally Scott (D) says the state’s fifth most populated city could use a new revenue source, and since people are going to gambler whether a casino is in Reading or not, he’d prefer those dollars to stay local. Talking with the Reading Eagle, Scott explained, “I understand that gambling is a vice, but we all have vices. We can’t afford to lose that opportunity. We can use the help.”
In late October, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf (D) signed a massive gambling expansion package authored by the GOP-controlled General Assembly.
The state’s 10 full-fledged casinos can bid on the satellite casinos, which will come at a minimum cost of $7.5 million, plus an additional $2.5 million later add-on fee for table games. Each satellite will be permitted to house up to 750 slot machines and 30 table games.
Reading Top Pick?
Municipalities have until January 1 to notify the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board whether the town wishes to opt out of potentially becoming a satellite host. The current casinos will submit sealed bids in early 2018, with the highest offer getting first dibs on the rural town of their choosing that hasn’t filed an opt-out resolution.
More than 150 municipalities have already withdrawn their candidacies. The list includes State College, home to Penn State University, as well as Lancaster Township and Mount Wolf Borough, the latter being the governor’s hometown.
In addition to Reading, Williamsport, York, and Altoona are now seen as the frontrunners. But Reading might be the top pick.
The city has plenty to offer a potential gaming operator. The city has just short of 90,000 residents, and over 400,000 in the surrounding metro area. Reading is also positioned between the Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76) and I-78, the two main arteries that respectively travel to Philadelphia and New York City. Reading is additionally home to the Fightin Phils, a Double-A affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies.
Satellite casino hosts will receive four percent of the 54 percent tax placed on gross gaming each slot machine takes in. The town will also keep four percent of the table games’ 14 percent tax.
Rural towns additionally stand to benefit from an increase in travel, with the local economy presumably positioned to reap the rewards from visitors dining and shopping during their gaming excursions.
But Berks County Commissioners Chairman Christian Leinbach believes the satellite gaming legislation promises too much. The money grab by state lawmakers was passed in order to help close a $2.2 billion budget gap.
Leinbach said the satellites will simply poach revenue away from the existing casinos, and won’t generate substantial new taxes for the Harrisburg capital. Activist Dianne Berlin, who operates an anti-casino website called CasinoFreePA, agrees with Leinbach. She recently opined, “Casinos are not economic development. It is just circulation of existing wealth.”