Monday, December 5 2022

Preliminary design rendering of the exterior of the proposed mini-casino at Nittany Mall. Image courtesy of Nelson Worldwide

Although the process is moving forward, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s decision on whether to license a Category 4 casino at Nittany Mall is still months away.

According to a hearing officer’s scheduling order, a hearing on applications to intervene is tentatively scheduled for the Oct. 19 council meeting in Harrisburg. At that meeting, the board will hear arguments from parties seeking to intervene against awarding the casino license to developer SC Gaming OpCo, which is led by Penn State alumnus and investor Ira Lubert.

A separate hearing for the board to vote on whether to approve the license could only take place after those arguments have been heard. Thus, the November board meeting would be the earliest date for a licensing hearing, at which SC Gaming Op Co. and the PGCB Enforcement Lawyers Office would present any updated evidence. and would present oral arguments as to whether the license should be granted. The date for the leave hearing, however, has not been set.

“They have to make a decision on any intervention status and those arguments are part of the record, but nothing in the law with the council says they have to act on any license application within a certain time frame,” Door-keeper floor of the PGCB, Doug Harbach. said. “Even when [intervention requests are] settled, it is when the council has made a decision that it can hold a public vote, and that can happen at any time.

Requests to intervene must be filed by August 26, while casino developer SC Gaming OpCo and the Office of Enforcement Counsel have until September 6 to respond to any filings.

Harbach said petitions to intervene and a council hearing to determine standing are normal parts of the licensing process.

“If they are legally accepted to have intervention status, then all of their arguments would be part of the record,” Harbach said. “I can’t tell you whether there would be another hearing on this or not…but they would have the opportunity, even at a hearing for the status to intervene, to provide arguments on this.”

One party likely to seek intervention is Cordish Companies, which operates as Stadium Casino in Pennsylvania and has separately filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court arguing that Lubert’s winning bid at an auction in September 2020 to apply for Pennsylvania’s fifth category 4, or mini-casino, was erroneously awarded.

Because it was an auction and not a bidding process, Lubert’s winning bid of $10,000 was the only one revealed by the PGCB at the time.

In January 2021, Bally’s Corporation announced that it had signed an agreement with Lubert to develop the planned $123 million mini-casino at Nittany Mall on Macy’s former property.

Cordish’s lawsuit alleges that Lubert, who was eligible to bid because of his stake in Rivers Casino Pittsburgh, violated PGCB rules by subsequently associating with Bally’s and others who would not be eligible to bid. on the casino. Local developer Robert Poole and Penn State real estate executive and administrator Richard Sokolov are listed as vice presidents of SC Gaming OpCo.

The petition also alleges that Poole and Sokolov helped pay for the $10 million offer, rendering Lubert’s offer invalid.

Cordish argues that the alleged violations mean that Lubert’s bid must be rescinded and Stadium Casino has the right to seek the casino’s license or the holding of a new auction.

In responses filed in the Commonwealth Court, Lubert and the PGCB denied any breach of the rules. Lubert maintains that he is the sole owner of SC Gaming.

“Nothing in gaming law prevents SC Gaming from applying for a Category 4 license as long as Lubert is the sole owner at the time the license is granted,” PGCB’s response said.

The trial is still ongoing, according to the docket of the Commonwealth Court.

For the PGCB process, no party automatically has standing in an auction bid, Harbach said.

“Any party can certainly apply for intervention status,” he said. “The board then has the option of holding a hearing on those filings and then making a decision on whether or not they have standing.”

It has been almost a year since the PGCB organized a public hearing of comments on the casino at State College. Table closed the public comment period on June 12.

Meanwhile, local opponents of the casino have submitted hundreds of comments to the PGCB and College Township, as well as numerous letters to the editor. A petition opposing the casino garnered 1,400 endorsers.

According Play in Pennsylvania, the PGCB has only once rejected a mini-casino. The council did not approve a proposal for Beaver County in 2019 because they did not believe it was economically viable.

If the license is granted, the final step will be the approval of building and renovation permits at the former Macy’s location in the mall. College Township Council already land use plans approved for the project last fall.

Bally’s previously said the renovations would take about a year.

The casino is said to have 750 slot machines, 30 table games and sportsbooks as well as a restaurant and bar with entertainment space and a multi-outlet fast food area.

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