Pennsylvania gaming heats up with casinos expanding statewide

The next two weeks should prove interesting for Pennsylvania casino gaming watchers.

First, there’s concrete news and movement with the long-awaited second Philly casino – Philly Live! Hotel & Casino at the former Holiday Inn at 900 Packer Avenue – now that Baltimore’s Cordish Companies announced that it will snag complete ownership of the project developer, Stadium Casino LLC., and buy out the interest of Stadium’s partner, the peeps at Parx Casino in Bensalem. Since Stadium had the right to open a casino in Westmoreland County, Pa., Cordish will do that project as well, alone. 

For now, however, there’s a local favorite — Penn National Gaming Inc., a giant of the industry since 1972, and known for gaming and racing facilities, as well as slot machines, is expanding.

“We operate 40 facilities in 18 jurisdictions across the US, making us the largest regional gaming operator in the country,” said Jeff Morris, VP of Public Affairs and Government Relations for Penn National, who manages all public policy with each individual state. “We’re most excited about our acquisition of Pinnacle Entertainment in October, a $3 billion purchase that included 12 new facilities. We’ve grown from 19,000 employees to 30,000-plus in just a month.”

This deal includes the Hollywood Casino at the National Race Course and The Meadows in Western Pennsylvania as part of the Pinnacle takeover. And now, as of Halloween, Penn Gaming has puts its application in for two new Category 4 facilities in Pa.: one, for Hollywood Casino Morgantown, in Caernarvon Township, Berks County, (30 table games, 750 slot machines, a sports book), and another in York, Pa. at the one-time York Galleria space (to start, 24 table games, 500 slot machines). Both will feature signature restaurants, lounges and stage spaces for dining and entertainment.

“As far as sports betting goes, that is just another way to engage our customers and attract them to our property,” claimed Morris. Penn Gaming’s money is in the slots and table games, and the amenities such as restaurants that surround the casino floor.

“We had competitors who were looking to come in to the state and capture the surrounding markets, so we looked at our takeovers in York and Morgantown as both an offensive and defensive opportunity,” said Morris, who is looking to provide gaming opportunities barely as far as the crow flies form another Penn National facility.

“Where York is concerned, it’s defensive, as it is 45 minutes from our Grantville location, so we’ll hopefully get that overflow, plus we’re close to Northern Maryland and other parts of Pennsylvania. With Morgantown, that’s offensive strategy to grab the Western suburbs – abut to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Interstate 176 and Morgantown Expressway connecting with Route 422 near Reading, all with very minimal work to get in-and-out of that location.”

Each location’s current investment levels are between $110 and $120 million per space – counting application fees – with the York space being built to a smaller scale than the 80,000 square foot, 36 acres of land that holds the potential Morgantown hot spot. “We can however go to the max in York if we see growth,” Morris said. “What’s unique there is that we’re going into an already existing facility – The Galleria, and moving into its first floor where stores had previously closed, and invigorate that location. Perhaps then we can attract new business to mall. It’s a real find – like Morgantown, there’s access roads already built and the location is well known.”

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